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BLOOMINGTON — You don't need to be a helpless bystander in the battle against diseases spread by mosquitoes and ticks. There are ways to protect yourself and your community — and help researchers.

You can be a “citizen scientist” by taking part in the Illinois Tick Inventory Collaboration Network, called I-TICK, a project involving the Illinois Natural History Survey, University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine, Illinois Department of Public Health and Midwest Center pf Excellence for Vector-Borne Disease.

You also can report dead birds to your local health department. The Illinois Department of Public Health — www.dph.illinois.gov/topics-services/diseases-and-conditions/west-nile-virus — has details under the “Bird Collection” tab.

Tom Anderson, director of environmental health for the McLean County Health Department, said you can contact the department if you see a sick bird with signs of West Nile virus.

Usually, “they will stupor around like it's drunk,” he said.

Lee Ann Lyons, an I-TICK coordinator, said researchers are looking for people involved in work or hobbies outside to collect ticks they find on themselves and turn them in with information on where they were.

Entering its second year, the goal of the project is to set up a network across the state to provide information on what ticks are found where.

Currently, there are hubs in nearly 50 counties where people can get an I-TICK kit.

Sugar Grove Nature Center near Funks Grove is one of the hubs. There also are hubs in Tazewell, DeWitt and Piatt counties.

“We're still trying to find a good hub in Macon County,” said Lyons.

The kits include tweezers, five vials, instructions and a data collection form to record information such as the date and place where ticks were collected, how many and whether repellent was used.

In its first year, the project distributed 1,000 kits and about one third were returned.

“We were pretty amazed by how much we learned,” said Lyons.

The kits provided information to change the status of the Lone Star tick in 33 counties, the dog tick in 24 counties and the black-legged or deer tick in four counties from not found to found or found to established, she said. The deer tick is the one that carries Lyme disease.

It's OK to use insect repellent while using the kit; in fact, it is encouraged. 

“We don't want to put anyone at risk,” she said. “Our whole purpose is to reduce the spread of disease, not increase it.”

Contact Lenore Sobota at (309) 820-3240. Follow her on Twitter: @Pg_Sobota

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Education Reporter

Education Reporter for The Pantagraph.

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