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After being discovered in New Jersey in August 2017, the invasive species has been spotted in 45 counties in eight other states.
Much of the country could become habitat for a new invasive tick with the potential to spread diseases that has already been identified in nine states, a new study finds.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in late November warned people and policymakers that the Asian longhorned tick had been detected in nine states, with the first sighting in New Jersey in August 2017. Since then, it’s been spotted across 45 counties in Arkansas, Connecticut, Maryland, North Carolina, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia.
A study in the Journal of Medical Entomology looked at where the tick—which has spread potentially deadly illnesses in people in Asia and disease debilitating to dairy cattle in New Zealand and Australia—has thrived in other countries to map where it is likely to end up in the United States.
Ilia Rochlin, an entomologist and researcher affiliated with the Center for Vector Biology at Rutgers University, predicted the tick would find the most suitable habitat along much of the East Coast, as well as the upper West Coast. Another area, which Rochlin flagged as potentially more worrisome from a public health perspective, is in several midwestern and southern states: Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Missouri, and Tennessee.
Rochlin noted that this tick in China, Korea and Japan can transmit a virus that causes severe fever with thrombocytopenia syndrome, which he said is very similar to the rare Heartland virus now found in some Midwest states.
“At the present, Heartland virus is a rare disease transmitted by lone star ticks. The main concern is that the Asian Longhorned tick may be able to vector Heartland virus increasing the risk of transmission to people,” he said in an email to Route Fifty.
The CDC noted that this tick, the first invasive tick species discovered in the U.S. in around 80 years, has been found on a variety of hosts, from people to domestic animals to wildlife.
A single female tick can reproduce without mating, creating thousands of eggs at a time. The agency said this can result in thousands of ticks being found on a host. This happened with the first known case in New Jersey, The Washington Post reported, when a woman who had been shearing her sheep showed up at her local health department covered in larval ticks.
Dr. John Aucott, director of the Lyme Disease Research Center at Johns Hopkins University Medical Center, told Health that the disease carrying potential of the new tick shouldn’t alarm people too much, noting that the diseases it is associated with in other countries won’t necessarily show up here.
But he said public health officials and members of the public should be thinking more about ticks and how to prevent bites, given the growth in general of diseases spread by native ticks. For example, a new CDC study found there are more than 300,000 new cases of Lyme disease reported annually.
Rochlin agreed that more must be done to monitor and control ticks, saying the country is in “dire need of a comprehensive tick control strategy and new tools to carry it out, from decision-making software to environmentally friendly acaricides to effective methods for host control.”
He said as far as the Asian longhorn tick is concerned, the focus for public health and agriculture agencies should be on monitoring the spread of the species, while scientists investigate if the invasive tick will be able to spread native viruses.
In New Jersey, an agriculture department spokesman said each county has a drop-off location where people can bring tick specimens if they find them.
One Asian longhorned tick was found on a white-tailed deer in Washington County, Maryland in July, the only one so far discovered in the state. Since then, state officials have asked anyone who believes they have found one of these ticks to contact a University of Maryland researcher.
To prevent tick bites, the CDC recommends that people use insect repellents, treat clothes with permethrin, an insecticide, and make sure to check their body and clothing for ticks when coming home from a potentially tick-infested area.
Laura Maggi is Managing Editor of Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.