UMass lab receives grant to offer discounted, free tick testing

Health

The Laboratory of Medical Zoology at UMass has received a $100,000 grant through the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to subsidize the cost of tick testing for state residents. 

According to a news release sent to 22News by UMass, the funding from the CDC will provide discounted tick testing to state residents through their tick-testing service, TickReport.

Anyone who finds a tick on their body can put it in a plastic bag, dead or alive, and mail it to the UMass lab. 

“We test ticks from all around the country,” Tim Daly from UMass Tick Testing Lab said. “Individuals will send in ticks that have bitten them, their children, or their pets. We identify them and then we get them ready and test them for various diseases.”

Of the funding, $50,000 will be used to cover testing for the Powassan virus, a new tick-borne illness in the state. Residents on the first 1,000 TickReport orders submitted will have the full cost of Powassan virus testing covered, according to UMass.

The other $50,000 of the funding will be used to offset the cost of standard DNA TickReport resting for Massachusetts residents in towns that do not have an arrangement with the lab or the public health department. Massachusetts residents will be able to get a standard DNA TickReport test for just $15 while funds are still available. 

UMass microbiology professor Stephen Rich said a major goal is to encourage more. TickReport participation from residents in under-represented places in Massachusetts. 

“When we started doing this ten years ago, it was $140,” Rich said. “We were able to get it down to $50 a few years ago because we amped up the volume. Now that we have more volume, we can reduce it again.”

Rich also said he expects the funds to be used up quickly.

“We anticipate that this program will be over by early to mid-July, the subsidy is really going to go fast,” Rich said.

People who can’t afford a test will soon be able to use the lab’s mobile app, TickReport. When released, the app will allow people in the U.S. to send a good-quality photo for the lab to identify for free.

The TickReport program tested more than 14,000 ticks last year. The lab has received more than 300 ticks in just the last two days. 

TickReport is testing ticks from all 50 states.

Rich told 22News, if you send in a tick, you will get results emailed to you with what kind of diseases the tick may have within three business day.

The funds are expected to be used up quickly. Researchers anticipate the $15 tick testing program to end by mid-July

The lab currently offers 23 different tick tests in three tiers of price.

A standard DNA package costs $50 and tests for the most common bacterial and protozoan pathogens. A DNA + RNA packages are $100 and tests for viruses in addition to the common bacterial and protozoan pathogens. A comprehensive package costs $200 and expands testing to very rare pathogens like Bartonella Miyamoto. 

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