MSU researchers are involved with the CDC Center of Excellence in Combating Vector-borne Disease – Michigan State University | Team Cansler

Michigan State University researchers will be supported with $1.3 million in grants, part of a larger $10 million project.

Jean Tsao

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State University researchers are the recipients of a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention focused on preventing and controlling tick- and mosquito-borne diseases in the Great Lakes region.

MSU will receive $1.3 million over the next five years to continue studying the rise in vector-borne diseases — human diseases caused by parasites, bacteria, and viruses. It is part of a broader $10 million award that complements funding begun in 2017 for the Midwest Center of Excellence in Vector Borne Diseases (MCE-VBD), a nationwide network of researchers, universities and public health agencies in the Great Lakes region, extended . The University of Wisconsin is the lead institution, along with other collaborators from the University of Illinois, the University of Notre Dame, and Purdue University. The new MSU award represents the culmination of a highly competitive renewal process that was selected from 22 CDC-reviewed applications to maintain four such centers nationwide.

Jean Tsao, who holds appointments in the MSU College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) Department of Fisheries and Wildlife and the MSU College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM) Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences, is leading the Michigan State University effort. She is joined collaboratively by Henry (Rique) Campa III, also of the MSU Department of Fisheries and Wildlife and Senior Associate Dean at the Graduate School, and Ned Walker of the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics at the MSU College of Natural Sciences and the Department of Entomology within CANR. Each of the three team members is also supported by MSU AgBioResearch.

The MSU team aims to develop and evaluate targeted and biologically rational approaches to control tick populations by administering antiparasitic drugs to white-tailed deer populations. This approach is modeled on an ongoing project being conducted by Campa and USDA researchers at the National Wildlife Research Center investigating a bovine tuberculosis vaccine delivery system funded by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources-Wildlife Division.


The primary tick species of interest is the black-legged or “deer” tick, which is responsible for transmitting pathogens and ultimately causing Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, babesiosis, and Powassan virus encephalitis in humans. Tsao said this species of tick and associated pathogens have been spreading rapidly in Michigan, increasing the risk of tick-borne infections not only for humans but also for pets.

If successful, a similar system could be adapted for controlling populations of the invasive solitary star tick recently discovered in Michigan and the Asian longhorn tick that has reached neighboring states, Tsao said. The establishment of these tick species can have negative consequences for wildlife, livestock, pets and humans.

In addition, the team is evaluating targeted methods to control blacktail mosquito populations responsible for transmission of eastern equine encephalitis virus in the state. The researchers say that severe encephalitis caused by the viral infection has increased in frequency and expanded its geographical distribution, affecting humans, horses, zoo animals and wild animals such as deer and eagles.

The team is developing a prevention method that includes selective treatment of insect roosts placed at the edges of environmentally sensitive black-tailed mosquito sphagnum swamp and hardwood swamp habitats.

Heinrich Campa
Henry (Rique) Campa III

Overall, the MSU research program will involve outreach to state and regional stakeholders and community stakeholders and will involve undergraduate and graduate students, veterinary medicine students within the CVM, and a postdoctoral researcher.

In addition, MSU researchers will continue to work with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, publicly funded mosquito control programs, and local health authorities to:

  • Improving public health capacity to detect invasive vectors
  • refine current vector control practices
  • Evaluate and improve messaging to encourage adoption of personal protective measures to prevent exposure to vector-borne pathogens.

According to the World Health Organization, vector-borne diseases account for more than 17% of all infectious diseases and are responsible for more than 700,000 deaths annually.

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