October 15, 2019
2 min read

NIH announces ‘focused roadmap’ to address rise in tick-borne diseases

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Eugene Shapiro
Eugene Shapiro

Amid a rise in tick-borne disease in the United States, the NIH announced a plan to “build on — and accelerate — new and existing research initiatives to improve scientific understanding of ticks and the pathogens they may transmit and to develop the necessary tools and strategies to better diagnose, prevent and treat tick-borne diseases.”

“The incidence of reported tick-borne diseases in the United States has grown significantly in recent years, and is expected to continue to grow, sometimes resulting in human illness, extended disability and even death,” the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases told Infectious Disease News. “This plan represents a focused roadmap for scientists working to advance tick-borne disease research and development over the next 5 years, so that we can stem the growth of new cases of tick-borne diseases and their resulting impact on public health.”

According to the CDC, in 2017, there were 59,349 reported cases of tick-borne disease in the U.S., a 22% increase from 2016, although the true incidence is likely much higher due to underreporting.

Lyme disease accounted for 72% of cases, but there are 20 or more disease-causing bacteria, viruses and parasites known to be transmitted from ticks to people, the NIH noted. Some of these can cause mild infections that resolve on their own, whereas others can lead to death.

Photo of a tick wanring in the woods 
The NIH is addressing the rise in tick-borne diseases with a new strategic research plan.
Source: Adobe Stock

The new NIH blueprint, titled “Strategic Plan for Tickborne Disease Research,” will focus on five scientific priorities for advancing research and development over the next 5 years:

  • improving fundamental knowledge of tick-borne diseases;
  • advancing research to improve detection and diagnosis of tick-borne diseases;
  • accelerating research to improve prevention of tick-borne diseases;
  • supporting research to advance the treatment of tick-borne diseases; and
  • developing tools and resources to advance tick-borne disease research.

“Based on input from the scientific and public health communities and patient groups, these were identified as the key areas of research focus necessary for making the greatest impact in addressing tick-borne diseases,” the NIAID said.

There is no funding attached to the plan itself. According to the NIAID, participating NIH institutes that conduct tick-borne disease-related research have their own funding.

Eugene Shapiro, MD , Infectious Disease News Editorial Board member and professor of pediatrics and epidemiology at Yale School of Public Health, suggested another area of focus for the future.

“The strategic plan to address the growing threat of tick-borne diseases generally is good. However, I would like to see more emphasis on research on the ecology of the tick vectors,” he told Infectious Disease News. “There is a great deal that we don’t know about the ecology of ticks. The question is not why are there so many ticks, but rather why aren’t there more ticks. What limits the number of ticks and what causes them to die? We don’t know. In general, I think it would be desirable to increase investments in field studies of ticks.” – by Caitlyn Stulpin


NIH. Strategic Place for Tickborne Disease Research. 2019. https://www.niaid.nih.gov/sites/default/files/NIH-Strategic-Plan-Tickborne-Disease-Research-2019.pdf. Accessed October 14, 2019.

Disclosure: Shapiro reports no relevant financial disclosures.