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15 August 2016

MSD Animal Health and Bristol University Release
Full Results of the BTP in Time for Tick Awareness Month

Stage One of the Big Tick Project Complete

Milton Keynes, August 15, 2016 – MSD Animal Health (a division of Merck & Co., Inc., Kenilworth, NJ, USA.), in collaboration with scientists at Bristol University, is releasing the full results of the first stage of the Big Tick Project in time for Tick Awarness Month in September. The full results are available on www.bigtickproject.co.uk.

The Big Tick Project, led by Professor Richard Wall and launched last spring by TV naturalist Chris Packham, has become the largest-ever veterinary study of ticks and tick-borne disease in the UK, if not worldwide. It received an ‘overwhelming’ response by veterinary practices, with 1094 veterinary practices recruited to monitor tick attachment to dogs. Recruitment was encouraged through a national publicity and communication initiative and participating practices were asked to select five dogs at random each week and undertake a thorough, standardized examination of each dog for ticks. The clinical history and any ticks were then sent to the investigators for identification. Between them they sent in a staggering 6,372 ticks by post to researchers at the School of Biological Sciences’ Veterinary Parasitology and Ecology Unit.

Recent changes in the distribution of tick vectors and the incidence of tick-borne disease, driven variously by factors such as climate change, habitat modification, increasing host abundance and the increased movement of people and animals, highlight the importance of ongoing, active surveillance.

In addition to the potential for tick mapping and greater understanding about what is perceived to be a rise in the risks to dogs1 and people from Lyme Disease, the emergence in four dogs in Essex of babesiosis, a life-threatening disease transmitted to dogs by infected ticks usually found in Europe, has highlighted the need for a major investigation on the scale of the Big Tick Project, says Professor Wall.

Professor Wall says: “The recent Babesia cases in Essex are of huge significance. The fact that we now appear to have established populations of the tick Dermacentor reticulatus acting as vectors of the introduced pathogen Babesia canis is a new and important development and a major concern for animal health. It clearly demonstrates the potential dangers from the inadvertent introduction of novel disease pathogens if vigilance and surveillance are not maintained.”

The final data provides a comprehensive spatial understanding of tick distribution and species abundance in the UK against which future changes can be compared. Relative prevalence maps show the highest rates in Scotland, East Anglia and south west England providing a valuable guide to tick-bite risk in the UK.


1 On the 25th January 2012, the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Bristol published the findings of a survey of pet dogs in Scotland, England and Wales, which showed that, at 0.5% or 481 infected ticks per 100,000 dogs, the prevalence of ticks infected with Lyme disease in the dog population may be much higher than previously thought. Consequently, it was concluded that the percentage of ticks in the UK infected with Lyme borreliosis and the corresponding risk to humans is also likely to be much higher than previously believed: http://bristol.ac.uk/news/2012/8176.html