KWIAHT discovers tick-borne diseases in the islands

by Russel Barsh

Director, KWIAHT

Six months ago, Kwiaht launched a new public health service for islanders: free testing of ticks from people and their pets for 16 tick-borne diseases such as Lyme and Spotted Fever. At the time, it was widely assumed that ticks are rare here, and tick-borne illnesses nonexistent. We have proven this wrong.

This winter, islanders sent us 134 ticks. Six percent of them were infected by one of a half-dozen pathogens that can cause serious symptoms in people or wildlife. We also found four different species of ticks here, including three that appear to have been recently introduced from east of the Rockies. Our results indicate that ticks ARE a public health issue in the islands. The Department of Health (DOH) is taking this seriously. However, Kwiaht still offers the only tick-testing service freely available to islanders to learn whether they, or their pets have been exposed to infected ticks. And our test results are helping us locate “hotbeds” of infected ticks, and the wildlife that have become reservoirs.

Like all biomedical testing, testing a tick is expensive — nearly $200. We would like to continue to make testing free to islanders who find ticks on themselves or their pets, so they know whether medical or veterinary attention may be needed. But to cover at least part of our costs, we need some community financial help!

Whether or not you have encountered ticks yourself, please consider supporting Kwiaht’s tick testing and monitoring program through GiveOrcas. Here’s a direct link to our program in the 2022 GiveOrcas catalog:

Let’s not wait for tick-borne illnesses to spread and take some of the joy out of hiking, dog-walking, bird-watching and nature appreciation on Orcas!