The East Asian tick, an exotic tick species previously unseen in the United States, has been confirmed to have overwintered and established itself after surviving the winter months in New Jersey, prompting warnings from experts who fear the pests might carry diseases that could harm animals and humans alike.
According to a report from CBS News, the East Asian tick, which is also known as the longhorned or bush tick, is now commonplace in New Jersey, with “thousands” of them having spread across the state since the species was first encountered in a Hunterdon County farm in November. The ticks can resemble small spiders and generally infest deer and “a wide range of other hosts,” thus making them a danger to various North American wildlife species, according to a news release from the New Jersey Department of Agriculture. This release also confirmed that the species had “overwintered,” adding that officials have yet to determine how the tick first made its way to the Garden State.
Speaking to CBS New York, research microbiologist James Occi explained that the East Asian tick was first discovered in New Jersey when a resident said that several ticks had infested her sheep. He added that the woman was also “covered in the same ticks” after she had captured some of them and presented them for analysis.
“It was kind of an odd looking thing. She didn’t know what it was, she had never seen them before.”
Local, state, and federal officials are working closely with researchers from Rutgers University’s Center for Vector Biology to eradicate the East Asian tick and ensure it doesn’t spread to nearby areas, but attempts to kill the pests have not yielded much success. According to Occi, not even carbon dioxide traps were able to wipe out all of the ticks that were tested by the Rutgers entomologists that he works with.
Also of concern to Occi and other experts is the fact that East Asian ticks are known for carrying the severe fever with thrombocytopenia syndrome (SFTS) virus, a condition distinguished by low platelet counts and a number of symptoms, including fatigue, fever, chills, headaches, body pain, and nausea. The virus could also lead to more serious conditions and affect the lymph nodes, and in some cases, infections could be fatal.
“It has the potential. That’s why we’re worried,” Occi commented.
In the meantime, the New Jersey Department of Agriculture said in its press release that officials will be monitoring farm animals and wildlife in the state for the rest of the year, and educating people about what they can do to protect animals from the tick.
As the November tests did not reveal that the East Asian ticks carried any known tick-borne illnesses such as Lyme disease or the Powassan virus, researchers will be testing a new batch of recently collected ticks for any potential diseases, CBS News wrote.