The longhorn tick is an additional reminder of the importance of tick prevention.
Testing by Iowa’s National Veterinary Services officials has confirmed the presence of the Asian longhorned tick in Pennsylvania.
The longhorn tick was discovered on a wild deer in Centre County. This invasive species forms groups in large numbers. Humans, pets, birds, cattle, and small mammals are potential hosts.
This particular species has distinctive “horns” that may not be visible without a microscope. And, the longhorned tick is easily confused with other tick species — including the rabbit tick.
State veterinarian David Wolfgang emphasizes his concern.
“Even experts have difficulty distinguishing among tick species, so it is important to take precautions to protect pets, livestock and family members from becoming a host for ticks of any kind. Scientists don’t yet know how this species will adapt to the North American climate and animal hosts, but we know it survived New Jersey’s winter and has infested sheep and cattle in this region.”
Dense Cluster of Longhorned Ticks
The Asian tick infests host animals in dense clusters of numerous ticks. A single female Asian longhorn tick is capable of reproducing and laying 2,000 eggs after feeding on a host.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, this week, the first longhorn tick was discovered on an opossum in North Carolina. It also has been found in West Virginia, New York, and Arkansas.
Pennsylvania’s secretary of health, Dr. Rachel Levine, cautions the public.
“The discovery of the longhorned tick is another reminder of the importance of tick prevention for Pennsylvanians. Ticks can be found in your own backyard, so it is essential to wear long sleeves and pants, use insect repellent containing DEET to help keep you safe from ticks and the diseases they carry. It is also important to check yourself and your pets for ticks, as pets can bring ticks indoors.”
The longhorned tick is also known as bush tick, or H. longicornis. It is ever-present in China, Japan, and the Korean Peninsula. A New Jersey sheep was the first documented sighting in the U.S., according to Tadhgh Rainey and
Andrea Egizi, authors who published their findings in the Journal of Medical Entomology, February 19.
Here are five reasons why scientists are concerned and on the lookout for this parasite.
- This tick is probably more widespread than realized. Researchers have no idea how the tick got to the U.S., or how it’s been traveling within the country. Theories include hitching rides on horses or birds.
- The longhorn tick can clone itself. After a female longhorned tick feeds, she will lay up to 2,000 genetically identical eggs. Two to three months later, the eggs hatch without any male fertilization. Researchers worry that this rapid cloning could lead to heavier tick infestations in short periods of time. The female longhorned tick can focus on feeding, reproducing and traveling, without worrying about finding a mate.
- It can carry human diseases. While no human bites have been reported in the U.S., the longhorned tick is a significant public health threat in East Asia. In China, Japan,and Korea, the tick is a known carrier of several viruses and bacteria that can infect humans. Recently, it has been linked to a disease called severe fever with thrombocytopenia syndrome (SFTS), which causes severe hemorrhaging and has a mortality rate of more than 5 percent. Lyme disease is a primary concern. However, other potentially fatal diseases that cause neurological problems are also a public health concern, including anaplasmosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis, and Powassan virus. Pennsylvania consistently ranks among the top states for Lyme disease cases.
- It’s not a finicky eater. Hundreds of ticks in all stages of life were found latched on to the ear of a sheep in New Jersey. Some ticks — like the rabbit tick or moose tick — have specialized hosts and won’t feed on other animals. On the other hand, ticks — like the longhorn tick — will latch onto any blood type. This invasive parasite will chow down on any bird or mammal it gets its claws into — including humans.
- It’s a huge threat to livestock. It seems as though sheep and cows should be more afraid of the longhorn tick than humans. This tick is good at transmitting the deadly cattle disease theileriosis. Heavy infestations have also been known to suck so much blood from a single animal that it dies — a vampire-like practice called exsanguination.
Egizi says she’s not surprised that the longhorn tick has been found in many places. It has gone undetected for years. She says, “The more we look for it, the more we’ll find it.”
Presently, the longhorned tick has been confirmed in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, and Arkansas.
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