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Environmental Professionals Network

School of Environment and Natural Resources


Environmental and health scientists bite back! Managing tick and mosquito bite-based diseases in Ohio and beyond

Feb 14, 2023, 7:15am - 9:30am

Photo button from a collection of different images from the EPN December Evening Event

Program Overview

The Ohio River Valley region is now a critical zone for “medically-relevant” (very dangerous) tick spread, recently increasing from one tick to five tick species in Ohio and surrounding states. This includes the Blacklegged (“deer” tick) and lone star tick, which are associated with Lyme Disease and Alpha-gal syndrome, respectively. Environmental management decisions, such as deforestation and reforestation, increasing White-tailed deer populations, and a changing climate, are driving the spread of these species throughout the area. Ticks are present and spreading across the region’s urban centers, suburban and rural areas and present an occupational and safety challenge to those in agricultural and natural resource management occupations.

In response to this sudden and immediate threat, experts are developing working groups to address the issues in the Ohio River Valley region. This includes responses from various public agencies, including the Center for Disease Control, Ohio Departments of Health, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and other natural resources agencies and county health departments. These entities are each seeking to address the challenges of surveillance for tick species. A key strategy is to increase the awareness and diagnosis effectiveness among medical doctors and nurses in practice.  

This program will explore vector-borne diseases increasingly spreading through ticks and mosquitos, and how several environmental changes are creating the conditions for enhanced spread in the Ohio River Valley region. It will demonstrate our common interest for addressing the rise and spread of ticks in the Buckeye State and to enhance efforts to formalize and advance tick surveillance regionally.

Two years ago, Risa Pesapane, PhD (Ohio State’s Parasite and Pathogen Ecology Lab) and inter-agency colleagues initiated a five-year strategic plan that includes improving the diagnosis of vector borne diseases in hospitals and medical clinics, including tracking the migration of ticks across seven states.

During this EPN Breakfast program, Steven Wilden, DVM will overview the USDA’s approach to tick monitoring and surveillance, including specific agency programs in practice. Sarah Short, PhD will explain how the management of vector-borne disease spread through mosquitos serves as an example of the effectiveness of cross-sector surveillance to reduce infections.

Medical and public health leaders, including Sarah Fink, REHS, and Luis Téllez, MD, MSPH, will discuss tick and mosquito spread in the Ohio River Valley from an “on the ground” perspective, and highlight the increasing risk and incidence of vector-born illnesses, and surveillance strategies, from the health sciences.


7:15 a.m. Doors open at Ohio State 4-H Center; Coffee served for in-person attendees.

7:40 a.m. Breakfast buffet served for in-person attendees.

8:00 a.m. Livestreaming service begins for virtual attendees.

8:10 a.m. Eric Toman, PhD, director, School of Environment and Natural Resources (SENR) and Risa Pesapane, PhD, assistant professor, Department of Veterinary Preventive Medicine and SENR, The Ohio State University, provide welcome remarks.

8:20 a.m. A series of expert panel presentations, which will overview the collaborations between state and local government agencies and university partners to track and monitor vector-borne disease spread as well as diagnosis and health science surveillance, will be provided by the following speakers: 

  • Steven Wilden, DVM, veterinary medical officer, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, USDA, reviews the USDA’s approach to tick monitoring and surveillance, including specific agency programs.
  • Sarah Fink, REHS, program manager, Delaware Public Health District, presents on the surveillance of vector-borne disease from an “on the ground,” local health sciences, perspective.

  • Sarah Short, PhD, assistant professor, Ohio State Entomology, discusses the role of academia in vector borne disease research, and collaborative successes and challenges to research in Ohio.

  • Luis Téllez, MD, MSPH, medical director (retired), St. Elizabeth Urgent Care, reviews the diagnosis and surveillance of vector-borne diseases from a physician's perspective. 

9:00 a.m. Dr. Pesapane moderates a panel discussion with the expert panel.

9:10 a.m. Audience in-person and virtual question and answer session.

9:30 a.m. Dr. Toman concludes the EPN Breakfast program component.

Networking session for in-person guests. Livestreaming service concludes for virtual attendees. 


Sarah Fink Sara Fink, REHS, program manager, Delaware Public Health District

Sarah Fink is a Registered Environmental Health Specialist who has been working in Vector Management at the local level for the past five years.  She recently became the Program Manager over Solid Waste and Vector at Delaware Public Health District.  Previously she worked at Franklin County Public Health as the Vector Program Coordinator and then as the Community Environmental Health Section Supervisor. In her local public health roles, Sarah has been responsible for mosquito and tick surveillance and control, as well as public outreach and education efforts regarding vector-borne disease prevention.  Sarah has a Bachelor’s in Public Health with a specialization in Environmental Health from Ohio State’s College of Public Health.  She also serves as the President of the Ohio Mosquito and Vector Control Association.

Risa PesapaneRisa Pesapane, PhD, assistant professor in ecosystem and wildlife health, School of Environment and Natural Resources, The Ohio State University 

Dr. Pesapane (she/her) is the principal investigator of the Parasite and Pathogen Ecology (PPE) Lab with joint affiliation in the Department of Preventative Medicine and the School of Environment and Natural Resources at Ohio State. Risa is a broadly trained disease ecologist who studies parasites and pathogens in both human and animal populations by leveraging tools from community ecology, molecular ecology, landscape ecology, microbiology, entomology, and epidemiology. She earned a PhD in ecology with a designated emphasis in the biology of vector-borne disease from UC Davis, an MS in wildlife science with a focus on disease ecology from Virginia Tech, and simultaneous undergraduate degrees in wildlife science and biology from Virginia Tech. Risa is a vocal advocate of interdisciplinarity, One Health, and diversity, equity, and inclusion. At home, she is mom to a tiny human as well as several pets and enjoys a myriad of home and garden projects with her partner on their small homestead.

Sarah ShortSarah Short, PhD, assistant professor, Department of Entomology, The Ohio State University 

Dr. Short is originally from Willoughby, Ohio. She attended Xavier University in Cincinnati as an undergraduate where she received a BS in Biology. She then went on to earn her PhD in Genetics and Development at Cornell University in the laboratory of Dr. Brian Lazzaro and continued her training as a postdoctoral fellow at Johns Hopkins University with Dr. George Dimopoulos. Dr. Short joined the Department of Entomology at Ohio State in August 2018.  Dr. Short’s lab is broadly interested in understanding the factors that influence variation in susceptibility to pathogen infection and transmission of infectious disease. The Short Lab studies how insects interact with harmful and helpful microbes and the ecological and evolutionary forces shaping insect immune defense.  As a vector biologist, she is also interested in finding ways to use this information to improve our ability to prevent the spread of vector-borne diseases. Her lab primarily studies Aedes aegypti, the mosquito vector of dengue and Zika virus.

Steve Wilden APHIS LOGOSteven Wilden, DVM, veterinary medical officer, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)

Steven Wilden has worked for USDA APHIS Veterinary Services as a field Veterinary Medical Officer since October 2004. He primarily covers southeastern Ohio, but works in other parts of Ohio and the U.S. as needed. He has prior experience with both federal and state meat inspection, and private veterinary practice. Steven is a 1994 graduate of the Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine and a 1990 graduate of the Ohio State University College of Agriculture.

Sarah ShortLuis Téllez, MD, MSPH, medical director (retired), St. Elizabeth Urgent Care (Dayton, Ohio)

Luis Téllez is trained in Family Medicine and was most recently medical director at Samaritan Behavioral Health in Dayton, OH in the area of Substance Use Disorders and Behavioral Medicine. Dr. Téllez also worked 6 years in private practice and 20 years in urgent care at St. Elizabeth Urgent Care in Dayton, Ohio. He is a graduate of Loma Linda University School of Medicine and School of Public Health. He is a former public health officer for a consortium of American Indian Tribes in Southern California, providing services in the areas of safe water access, proper waste disposal, industrial hygiene, communicable disease and vector control. 

Additional Information

This event’s menu features apple and cinnamon overnight oats; spinach, roast red bell peppers, goat cheese frittata with onion jam; turkey sausage; sweet potato hash with fresh thyme; apple streusel coffee cake; and seasonal fruit will also be provided. Coffee, hot tea, orange juice, and water will be served. There will be plates, cups, woodware, and napkins.  

We strive to host events that are inclusive and accessible to everyone. If you have a disability and require accommodations to fully participate in this activity, please reach out to Callia Téllez ( Requests made five business days in advance will generally allow us to provide seamless access. However, we will make every effort to meet requests made after this time frame. You will be contacted by someone from our staff to discuss your specific needs. For the virtual audience, a closed captioning option via EPN’s YouTube live stream will be available, as well as other accommodations as requested on the registration.

Masks are optional for all event attendees at this event, in accordance with Ohio State’s Safe and Healthy Protocols as of this date. In-person attendees will be expected to follow Ohio State protocols regarding the prevention of COVID-19 transmission. More health and safety information available on this Personal Safety Practices page

This program will be livestreamed on the  EPN YouTube page. Additional information on livestream connections are available to those who register as a virtual participant for this event. 

EPN Breakfast Series

The Environmental Professionals Network hosts a monthly breakfast series with compelling speakers on important innovative topics at the Nationwide and Ohio Farm Bureau 4-H Center on Ohio State’s campus - open to all!