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Blacklegged tick

This undated photo provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows a blacklegged tick, also known as a deer tick.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Thursday announced it is conducting a five-year environmental surveillance of ticks to assess the risk of tickborne illnesses.

The survey, which started in July 2018 in coordination with county governments, is part of the Pennsylvania Lyme Disease Task Force recommendations for combating the growing incidence of Lyme and other tick-borne diseases. It is funded annually through the state budget, provided by the state Department of Health.

“Lyme disease affects thousands of Pennsylvanians every year, but ticks are also known to carry other pathogens that could infect humans,” DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell said in a news release. “This survey will provide important data that will help us better understand these arachnids in our environment and inform Pennsylvanians on how, when and where to avoid getting bitten by a disease-carrying tick. We want everyone to enjoy the outdoors and take the proper precautions to avoid contact with ticks, and we are proud to support the Lyme Disease Task Force’s efforts to protect Pennsylvanians.”

The survey is taking place in every county in Pennsylvania to track ticks’ habits, life stages and peak activity, as well as to test them for human pathogenic diseases.

Ticks are collected using white felt drags that sample low-lying ground cover and understory vegetation for questing ticks.

Fall and winter surveillance focused on analyzing adult blacklegged ticks for emerging and changing disease burdens in public use habitats across Pennsylvania, such as parks, playgrounds or recreational fields.

The spring and summer surveillance will focus on collecting three tick species: the blacklegged tick in its immature nymphal stage, when it most often infects humans with Lyme disease, as well as human babesiosis and human granulocytic anaplasmosis; the adult American dog tick, which transmits Rocky Mounted spotted fever and Tulameria; and adult lone star tick, which transmits Ehrlichiosis and Tularmeria.

Since July 1, 2018, DEP collected 3,663 adult black-legged ticks for testing.

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