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Photo of Gideon Wasserberg

Dr. Gideon Wasserberg (Biology) received new funding from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services for the project “NCDHHS Contract to Survey Tick Distribution in NW NC 2020-2021.”

Based on the past three years’ sampling at the northwestern Piedmont region and western Appalachian foothills, there is a clear north-to-south pattern in Ixodes scapularis numbers and their respective Borrelia burgdorferi (Bbss) infection rates. Also, preliminary results suggest larger numbers and infection rates along the New River compared with eastern reference sites at Alleghany, Surry, and Wilks counties.

For the coming year, researchers will test the “New River invasion corridor hypothesis” which posits that LD spreads faster by dispersing ticks along the New River basin that act as a natural corridor connecting the current southwestern VA hotspot of Pulaski/Wythe/Giles counties with the hig- LD incidence in northwestern counties of Ashe and Alleghany.

Based on this hypothesis, the researchers predict a more southerly expansion of I. scapularis distribution and Bbss infection along the New River Valley compared with the western Piedmont. Researchers will test this hypothesis using tick flagging in 10 sites: 5 along the New River (two sites in southern Virginia including Pulasky and Carroll counties, and three sites in North Carolina including Alleghany, Ashe, and Watauga counties) and 5 in latitudinally parallel sites in the western Piedmont (two sites in southern Virginia including Franklin and Patrick counties, and three sites in North Carolina including Surry, Alleghany, Wilkes counties).

Sites will be surveyed at least one time between November-January and at least one time between April-June, with at least 5 100m transects per site. Ticks will be collected (stored in 95% ethanol), speciated, and sent to CDC for pathogen testing.

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