Canine canaries

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Lyme disease is rapidly becoming more common in the United States. Now, new research offers veterinarians a forecasting map that tells them where dogs are most at risk for getting this infection—information that could also help track and predict Lyme disease in people.

The forecast map, co-created by UGA parasitologist Michael Yabsley in collaboration with a researcher at Clemson University, shows the percentage of dogs likely to test positive broken down by county in the 48 contiguous states. It draws on monthly test data from veterinarians, providing the most timely picture of Lyme disease cases available.

“Dogs really are the canary in the coal mine for human infection,” Yabsley said. “Our research team has evidence that the relationship between canine disease and human disease is strong.”

It helps, he said, that dogs are routinely checked for this disease.

“Because dogs are being tested for exposure during annual exams, these data are available on a national scale, something that is difficult to get when studying the ticks and environment directly.”

Initial symptoms of Lyme disease, which appear between five and 30 days in humans and two to five months in dogs, are flu-like: fatigue, low fever, and achy muscles and joints. But if left undiagnosed or untreated, Lyme disease can cause long-term complications of the heart, nervous system and muscles.

This brief appeared in the fall 2017 issue of Research Magazine. The original press is available at http://news.uga.edu/releases/article/new-lyme-disease-forecast-map/.