Success Story: Vector Mapping of Ticks and Tick-Borne Pathogens in Mongolia

 

Ticks are the primary vectors for several disease priorities of the U.S. military in the INDOPACOM Region including Crimean-Congo Hemorrhagic Fever, Q fever, rickettsiosis, Lyme disease (borreliosis), tick-borne encephalitis, bartonellosis, and the novel severe fever with thrombocytopenia syndrome virus (SFTSV). Limited investigations regarding the distribution and prevalence of ticks and tick-borne pathogens or their impact on human populations have occurred in Mongolia. Since 2019, AFRIMS and NAMRU-2 were funded on a collaborative project through the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch-Global Emerging Infections Surveillance called “Vector Mapping of Ticks and Tick-Borne Pathogens of Mongolia”. The main objective of this project is to assess the potential vector threat of tick-borne infections in Mongolia to better inform Department of Defense (DoD) force health protection policymakers and provide host-nation public health personnel information to make informed diagnostic and treatment decisions.

Vysnova partnered with the George Mason University and the Mongolian Institute of Veterinary Medicine to carry out this project and completed 2 successful years of tick surveillance in Mongolia, despite COVID-19 disruption due to travel restrictions, shortages in PPE/lab reagents, and general disruption across all international research. We were also able to arrange for targeted sampling of the Khan Quest training region and ship specimens from Mongolia to Thailand for NGS sequencing of tick pathogens. This project is now entering its third year of funding, where our team will continue to analyze samples in-hand, which includes over 13,000 ticks collected in 2019 and 2020, and actively conduct surveillance in priority areas to better understand tick-borne diseases in this region and the risks they pose for force health protection.

Based on findings from this project, we have published one manuscript – “Molecular Characteristics of Rickettsia in Ticks Collected along the Southern Border of Mongolia” in Pathogens, and currently have two other studies under review.