Combat Tickborne Disease

Choctaw Nation Partners with Oklahoma State University and CDC to Combat Tickborne Disease

Published January 3, 2024

DURANT, Okla. – The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma has partnered with Oklahoma State University (OSU) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to launch tickborne disease surveillance across the Choctaw Nation Reservation. Tick samples from each of 10 counties will be analyzed to identify community hotspots at risk for tickborne disease, including Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF), a tickborne illness that has increased across the reservation in recent years.

The CNO Department of Public Health expects the project to last for at least two years. An OSU Graduate Research Assistant (GRA), funded by the CDC’s Strengthening Public Health Systems and Services in Indian Country grant through Choctaw Nation, will be collecting and analyzing the ticks. “The GRA position was filled by a Choctaw tribal member giving back even more to the community we serve,” adds Mason Emert, epidemiologist. The results will be made public and depending on the findings, CNO Public Health will release an updated CNO Tick Guide.

“The diseases that ticks can cause are serious and progress quickly throughout the body,” says Rikki LaRoche, director of public health for the Choctaw Nation. “Educating our communities about prevention and signs to watch for is crucial to keeping everyone living on the Choctaw Nation Reservation safe and healthy.”

According to the National Institutes of Health, the incidence of RMSF in American Indians is higher than the average. Between 2020 and 2023, more than 60 patients at Choctaw Nation Health facilities were diagnosed with RMSF with an increase in incidence. The OSDH reports that counties within the reservation were among the highest for RMSF incidents between 2012 to 2016.

According to the CDC, tick exposure can happen year-round, but they are more active during the warmer months. To reduce exposure, know where to expect ticks, treat your clothing and gear, use Environmental Protection Agency-registered insect repellent, and avoid contact with ticks. When you come indoors, examine yourself, equipment, and pets for ticks and shower soon.

The public can help the project track the insects through filling out a short survey whenever time is spent outdoors. “This project will help alert the communities to areas they need to stay on high alert for ticks,” says LaRoche. “We want to reduce the amount of illness we’ve seen within the Choctaw Nation.”

About The Choctaw Nation

The Choctaw Nation is the third-largest Indian Nation in the United States with more than 225,000 tribal members and 12,000-plus associates. This ancient people has an oral tradition dating back over 13,000 years. The first tribe over the Trail of Tears, its historic reservation boundaries are in the southeast corner of Oklahoma, covering 10,923 square miles. The Choctaw Nation’s vision, “Living out the Chahta Spirit of faith, family and culture,” is evident as it continues to focus on providing opportunities for growth and prosperity.


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