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Study Will See if Coyotes Spread Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in Arizona

USFWS Pacific Southwest Region

A new research project at Northern Arizona University will find out if coyotes, as well as dogs, are spreading ticks infected with Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

Rocky Mountain spotted fever is spread by the brown dog tick, which is believed to bite mostly dogs and people. But wildlife biologist Eric Green says there’s reason to think coyotes carry the ticks, too.

“There’s been some long range transmission of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever from place to place throughout Arizona,” Green says. “Ticks don't walk very fast, they don't walk very far, so they have to have some way to ride on an animal.”  

Erica Weis, epidemiologist for the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, says it’s a plausible hypothesis. She says the disease is severe on Arizona’s tribal lands: 150 times higher than the national average. Some communities have treated nearly all the dogs with tick collars. If the disease persists, then Weis says coyotes could be a factor.

“They are closely related to dogs so ticks might be able to survive on coyotes as well, but we just don’t know,” she says. “It’s a good question to answer one way or the other.”    

The research will check for antibodies to the disease in coyote blood samples. The next step is to track coyotes to see if they spend time near houses.

Melissa joined KNAU's team in 2015 to report on science, health, and the environment. Her work has appeared nationally on NPR and been featured on Science Friday. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert.
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