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One third of ticks in Finland carry at least one disease pathogen

Thanks to a growing tick database at the University of Turku, researchers have new insights into the disease pathogens that the tiny, blood-sucking arachnids carry.

Close-up photo of taiga tick specimen. Image: Maija Laaksonen / Turun yliopisto

Around a third of the ticks in Finland - mostly found in the south - carry at least one pathogen. Two percent of the persistent arachnids carry several disease-causing agents, researchers at Turku University said.

About 30 percent of common ticks and 24 percent of taiga tick populations have been found to carry one disease pathogen. Common ticks more commonly carry several disease causing pathogens than taiga ticks, according to the researchers.

The most common pathogen found in the ticks was Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterial species that causes Lyme disease in humans - an illness referred to locally as borreliosis - and was found in 17 percent of the ticks at the university’s growing tick database bank.

Lyme disease cases are treated with aggressive antibiotics, without necessarily determining which specific bacterium is responsible for the infection.

Story continues after photo.

Tavallinen puutiainen
Common tick specimen. Image: Maija Laaksonen / Turun yliopisto

New research has revealed that ticks on the south coast carry the most pathogens but the region is home almost exclusively where the most common ticks - Ixodes ricinus or castor bean ticks - are found.

Both castor bean ticks and taiga ticks are now commonly found in areas across central Finland, the researchers said. Even further north, the tick populations are quite similar to ones in central areas, but the taiga has become more common in the north.

About three years ago researchers at the university asked members of the public to send in ticks they had found and now the institution has received more than 20,000 ticks. The researchers say that they want to take advantage of the significant amount of information they can learn from the specimens.

Examination of those thousands of tiny arachnids have uncovered many types of disease-causing bacteria and researchers have new insights into the arachnids themselves and the potential illnesses they carry.

The researchers said they hope to learn more about ticks, saying that their research has only begun, and that their study of the ticks will continue for several years. Ultimately, their goal is to find how tick-borne illnesses are transmitted, they said.

12:00 Corrected throughout to remove references to ticks as insects.

14:33 Corrected throughout to specify that ticks carry pathogens rather than diseases.

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