Friday, February 10, 2012

2 More Thoughts On Birds, Cool Shirts, And My Evil Twin?

More On Ticks And The Atlantic Flyway:

I continue to think about the role of birds carrying ticks to different regions and how Lyme disease (and other tickborne infections) could be spread that way. But much as I found the overlay map I posted earlier this week to be intriguing, I don't think that tracking infected ticks on birds is as simple as following major and principal flyways - even though that could be a reasonable point to start an investigation.

Yale has already done some work in this area, and I have no idea whether or not they've factored the results of this publication, "Do birds affect Lyme disease risk? Range expansion of the vector-borne pathogen Borrelia burgdorferi", into their recently published Lyme disease risk map.

It's important not to discount the role of birds here:
"Although the role of birds in B burgdorferi transmission dynamics is often discounted, data compiled from published studies indicate that the majority (58.6%) of bird species that have been evaluated are capable of infecting larval I scapularis with B burgdorferi. We estimated – for two bird species – that the number of individual birds required to produce one infected I scapularis larva is as low as three, and we conclude that bird-mediated tick movement is an important factor in the range expansion of both I scapularis and B burgdorferi."
Read More:

There are certain behaviors birds engage in and seasonal activities which would lead to a higher likelihood of birds contributing to the spread of Lyme disease on the ground. Specific kinds of birds would be more likely to contribute to infection spread than others - for example, I suspect birds which build their nests on the ground and are ground-based hunters are more likely to contribute to infected tick populations than birds which build their nests in trees. Also, some birds feast on ticks (such as guinea fowl) and they will lower local tick populations.

These are just a few examples - there are many more. I imagine there is no simple algorithm for determining the role for birds in spreading infection. I don't know what all the factors are which would contribute to the spread of Lyme disease via birds, and it's something I continue to look into because it does play an important role in surveillance and determining how infection could spread through different vectors.

Photo credit: Andreas Trepte,

Cool Lyme Disease T-shirts:

While doing a general search for Lyme disease related news the other day, I came across these shirts on Cafe Press:

I think they must have had me in mind as a target demographic, because it's the first Lyme disease related t-shirt that  I've seen which appealed to my appreciation of the TV show, "The Big Bang Theory", and also appealed to my appreciation on word play while mentioning Lyme disease research. It says "More nervous tics than a Lyme disease research facility"- playing on the word "tics" or "ticks".

There are a number of products for sale with this slogan on it (not just t-shirts) at Cafe Press  -  I don't know who is selling them and if they're another Lyme disease patient or not - the product page did not display this information. Check it out if you think it's something you'd like, too.

My Evil Twin?

It's been pointed out to me that I have a doppelganger online named Tom Carolan. He has Lyme disease blog, Tick Borne Diseases Radio, with entries in it which upon reading looked strikingly similar to my own blog at first glance. However, after more examination,  it's clear Tom's blog contains different content and his own unique commentary on the same topics which have grabbed my attention.

(Just so everyone knows, I have no problem with anyone passing on the content I write here as long as you give this blog credit and link to it. That's why I have a Creative Commons license posted at the bottom of each entry - so you know I support a more open source approach to copyright.)

Tom also has a podcast on iTunes on Tick Borne Diseases:

How about going over there to Tom's site and giving it a good read, and encouraging him to continue to post more podcasts and blog entries? It looks like he has a good thing going on and more content like his would be welcome - particularly more podcasts.


  1. DON'T DISCOUNT THE BIRDS - they explain perfectly the rise in MS, fibro, MCS that has plagued Nova Scotia and Ontario Canada for the past 20 years (due to archaic medical guidelines we still rarely diagnose Lyme up here, but look at the INCREDIBLE MS rates that parallel the stuff in New England - it's not like the birds, or ticks, know the borders!!!).

    I got my Lyme from a migratory songbird in 1995 while doing my graduate research on a small island in the North Atlantic Ocean, 200 km east of Nova Scotia*. In my ignorance, I even handled the ticks when I examined the dead nestlings I found in these overrun and abandoned nests - a situation and behaviour never before described for these ground nesting birds...


    Birds are the only logical vector for all the Lyme suspected (and FINALLY now being diagnosed) in the many areas of Canada that are too cold for the appropriate ticks to survive the winters and establish year-round populations (of course this is may be changing too...).

    Merilee Temple PhD
    Endangered Species Biologist
    Or at least I was one, until Lyme slowly eroded my energy, Nervous System, and life - I'm now semi-bedridden w/ little or no medical (or community) understanding and support up here...

    *Ipswich Sparrows, subspecies of the Savannah Sparrow, but nests only on the tiny Sable Island, NS, small consolodated sandbar located in the Grand Banks. They overwinter in the Mid-Atlantic coastal states, and like so many other birds do the great oceanic migration on the huge, warm ocean current every summer (w/ other species ending up on Maine, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Greenland, Iceland...).

  2. Hi Merilee, welcome to Camp Other blog.

    If you reread what I wrote above, I said: "It's important NOT to discount the role of birds here".

    In other words, I agree with you. And what I'm saying is that there is no simple algorithm for saying where all the infected birds are going to show up - even though a migration path is a great place to start. Some birds carry a lot of infected ticks while others do not seem to carry them - it does vary. I was proposing that ground nesting birds are also more likely to carry a higher number of infected ticks because of opportunity - it would be more likely ticks would crawl onto them than birds which nest in trees or rocky outcroppings.

    You have been an endangered species biologist? That is fascinating work. What kind of work were you doing up until you fell ill? A lot of surveillance work on birds, from the sound of it - but I'm guessing that's just a small portion of what you did?

    I am very sorry that Lyme disease has affected you so much. Have any of your previous coworkers or people you know near you been affected by Lyme disease, too? This is a difficult disease to deal with, and I agree, the lack of medical understanding and support is abysmal. I know it's even harder in Canada than in the US to find someone - anyone - who will listen and work with the condition for what it is. Dr. Ernie Murakami in BC is about the only doctor I know of who has openly challenged the way Lyme disease is treated in Canada, and I'm guessing he's far from where you are if my impression that you're still in eastern Canada is correct.

    With your background, I would think that more people would heed your words about Lyme disease seriously. If not, then more people with a science background dealing with this illness need to get together and create a united front explaining how serious the problem is - a sort of Union of Concerned Scientists On Lyme Disease.

    Last Friday I posted these two papers from Canada which may interest you:

    Detection of Lyme disease spirochete, Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato, including three novel genotypes in ticks (Acari: Ixodidae) collected from songbirds (Passeriformes) across Canada

    Lyme Borreliosis in Canada: Biological Diversity and Diagnostic Complexity from an Entomological Perspective

    The second one was published by the Entomological Society of Canada, and if you read it, they sound very much aware about the controversy around Lyme disease including treatment. I have to wonder if some allies in making everyone more aware of Lyme disease would be found within their ranks - whoever wrote this paper? And not just awareness, for what it's worth - but pushing a drive for more research into the bacteria itself and treatment for it.

    Since I've been blogging about this I have run into a number of people like myself who previously worked in the sciences who have been deeply affected by this disease and taken away from the work we were doing. It's a cost not only to ourselves but to society as well... Somehow I think the nature of this illness and the ultimate cost to everyone really needs to be made known and something has to be done about it.


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