Tick Identification and Testing

To combat the threat of tick-borne diseases to the residents of Monmouth County, the Tick-borne Diseases Program of the Monmouth County Mosquito Commission provides the service of Tick Identification and Testing as part of an on-going research program. The Tick Identification and Testing Service is meant to serve as an 'early warning' for people receiving a tick-bite.

Tick Identification
Individual citizens can submit ticks for identification to species, stage of development, and relative degree of engorgement. This information can be helpfull as outlined below:

Tick species
Different tick species are known to transmit different disease causing organisms, therefore knowing the species involved in the tick bite incident may alert you or your health care provider to watch for specific diseases.

Tick Development Stage
You cannot determine the species of tick by its size because all ticks are extremely tiny in the imature stages (larva and nymph) get progressively larger as they mature through their life cycle (adult males and females) and large still as they become engorged with blood. In addition differnt stages of ticks may be more or less likely to be infected with a disease causing organism (larva vs. nymph) or more of less likely to transmit a disease causing organism (males vs. females).

Tick Engorgement Level
If a tick is infected it may transmit that infection when it bites an individual. However transmission does not happen immediately. In the case of Lyme disease at least 24 hours is usually required befor the the tick will effectively transmit the pathogen. The engorgement level (flat, partially engorged, fully engorged) is a relative indication of how long a tick was attached . The longer a tick is attached the more engorged (filled with blood) it becomes. The longer an infected tick is attached the greater the risk that transmission wil take place. So risk increases with engorgement level.

All three of the most common ticks found in New Jersey are capable of transmitting diseases to humans and pets. There is no charge to Monmouth County Residents for the identification of the tick.

Tick Testing

Ticks that have been successfully identified as Ixodes scapularis the black-legged tick (a.k.a. deer tick) can be tested for Borrelia burgdorferi the causitive agent of lyme disease. The tick is tested using a DNA based technique known as Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR). The tick can be tested whether it is alive or dead. There is a $25.00 fee to cover the cost of the laboratory test.

Tick Infection Status
If a tick is positive for infection with the Lyme disease organism (Borrelia burgdorferi) the potential risk for infection of that individual to have taken place is increased (but not confirmed).

Important Facts to Keep in Mind Regarding the Tick Identification and Test Results
The tick identification and test results do not represent the diagnosis of disease in humans or animals. The tick identification and test results can provide infromation that may facilitate you and your health care provider in evaluating and making diagnostic/treatment decisions. The identification and and analysis of a submitted tick does not rule out the possibility that you may have had other undetected tick bites. Actual clinical symptoms should never be discounted based on the tick identification and test results. The official written report of the tick identification and testing results is an imporatnt document and you may wanrt to save it to include in your medical file for future reference. Currently only the black-legged tick (deer tick) will be tested for Borrelia burgdorferi the organism that causes Lyme disease. The black-legged tick is also able to transmit other diseases to humans such as Babesiosis (Babesia microti) and Anaplasmosis (Anaplasma phagocytophilum) formerly known as human granulocytic ehrlichiosis.

Tick Removal

The best way to remove attached ticks is to grasp the tick with fine-tipped tweezers as close to the skin as possible; then pull straight up with a slow, steady force. Try to avoid crushing the tick or destroying it in any other way. Clean the area of tick attachment with an antiseptic. Removed ticks can be saved in any sealed container to be later identified and tested. Attached ticks should not be removed with noxious chemicals or by burning. This may cause injury to the skin and can increase the risk of transmission by causing the tick to regurgitate disease causing organisms into the body. Do not place ticks in tape! This makes subsequent identification and testing much more difficult.

Submitting a Tick

The Tick Identification and Testing Service of the MCMEC Tick-borne Diseases Program is currently available to the residents of Monmouth County. At this time all ticks must be submitted in person at the Monmouth County Mosquito Commission located at 1901 Wayside Road in Tinton Falls.

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