Migrating Birds Play Huge Role in Distributing Ticks Around the World Which bird species have the greatest potential to spread Lyme disease?

By Lonnie Marcum

A new study shows that birds have possibly the most important role in the distribution of tick-borne diseases throughout the world.

Ticks on a bird

Due to changing climates, the breeding grounds of many species of birds are shifting farther north. As birds move north, so do ticks and the pathogens they carry.

Many species of birds will fly hundreds or thousands of miles between their breeding and wintering grounds. This is known as seasonal migration. For instance, birds can migrate across the Gulf of Mexico and into the United States, or across the Great Lakes and into Canada within a short period of time.

Millions of Ticks Hitch Rides on Birds

In 2015, researchers estimated that anywhere from 4 million to 39 million Central and South American exotic ticks are transported to the United States annually on migratory songbirds.

Daniel Becker, Indiana University - species of birds that can be a reservoir for Lyme diseaseA more recent study published in the journal Global Ecology and Biogeography specifically looked at identifying birds known to spread Lyme disease.

In this new study, the team used machine learning to search literature published from 1983–2019 to identify the species of birds that can be a reservoir for Lyme disease.

According to lead author Daniel Becker, of Indiana University, “Birds don’t spread Lyme directly to people, but they can carry infected ticks to new locations with no history of Lyme occurrence. A tick could drop off a bird and into a garden or yard, where it could later bite and infect a person. If local medical practitioners are unfamiliar with Lyme symptoms, proper diagnosis could be delayed. Identifying where ticks are spreading could improve medical response to Lyme and other tick-borne diseases.”….Join or login below to continue reading.

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