RML presentation / ticks and Dr. Schwan


Monday, Oct. 6, 2014


Media Contact: Ken Pekoc

(406) 375-9690



From Montana to Mali: RML’s Schwan to Share His Fascination with Ticks 

Of all the places Tom Schwan. Ph.D., has visited around the world in a research career spanning more than 40 years, one of his most exciting discoveries came last year among pieces of firewood stacked east of Corvallis. Nestled in the pile his research team foundOrnithodoros hermsi, a tiny tick species sought in the Bitterroot Valley for decades. The excitement increased when the tick was found to carry a bacterium never before identified in the valley.

On Oct. 24 at 7 p.m. in the Hamilton High School Performing Arts Center, Schwan will describe the discovery of tick-borne relapsing fever east of Corvallis and similar work his group has done on this disease since 2002 in the Flathead Valley. He also will discuss other tick-borne diseases found in the Bitterroot Valley, similar research under way in West Africa, and the November 1981 discovery at Rocky Mountain Laboratories of the cause of Lyme disease.


The talk, titled “Ticks and Tick-borne Diseases: From Montana to Mali,” will be tailored to a general audience and admission is free. The PAC is located at 327 Fairground Road.

“I hope to convince the audience that ticks are not just ‘disgusting creatures’ as many believe. They actually are organisms beautifully adapted for a unique lifestyle among the animal kingdom,” said Schwan, who retired from RML in January, but continues to mentor its scientists on a limited basis.

Schwan began his research career in the 1970s, studying fleas as a student in the California State College system. He also served as a volunteer with the Peace Corps in Kenya. In 1986, he began working at RML focusing on ticks and the infectious diseases they spread and, for the last 16 years, he was a senior investigator and more recently a lab chief.

“I originally wanted to become a mammalogist, but soon became fascinated by the small parasites in their fur that fed on blood,” Schwan explained. “I then learned of the importance of these little vampires as transmitters of infectious agents, the human diseases that could result from their bite and their importance in relation to human health.”

Schwan is the latest of many outstanding tick-research experts at RML and has modernized several tick-research methods, according to Marshall Bloom, RML Associate Director for Scientific Research. “Rocky Mountain Laboratories was built on ticks more than 100 years ago, and Tom has extended its tradition of excellence in medical entomology,” he said. “His studies on tick-borne relapsing fever in California, Montana and Mali rank right up there with the very best tick-related work done at RML.”

RML is part of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a component of the National Institutes of Health. NIAID conducts and supports research—at NIH, throughout the United States, and worldwide—to study the causes of infectious and immune-mediated diseases, and to develop better means of preventing, diagnosing and treating these illnesses. News releases, fact sheets and other NIAID-related materials are available on the NIAID Web site at http://www.niaid.nih.gov.

About the National Institutes of Health: NIH, the nation’s medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.



NIH…Turning Discovery Into Health