U.S. officials have told CBS that a new species of tick is spreading across the East Coast. Haemaphysalis longicornis, known as the longhorned tick, is originally from Asia. It has been unknown to the United States until last year when it was first discovered on a sheep in New Jersey. The most recent stop for the parasite is Pennsylvania, but it has also been spotted in Virginia, West Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and New York.
How they got here is a puzzle scientists are still trying to solve. The species is known to be invasive in New Zealand, Australia, and several Pacific islands. It is possible, according to the USDA, that the parasites were stowaways on horses, livestock, animals, or perhaps even people that came to the United States.
This new tick species is a voracious eater and a severe infestation can cause anemia or even death to the unlucky livestock that becomes a host. They also reproduce asexually, a single female capable of laying 2,000 eggs after a feeding. Along with livestock, they can target pets, birds, small mammals, and humans.
The health risk posed by these new invaders has not yet been stated by U.S. officials, who continue to research the possibilities. According to the USDA, other countries have found the longhorned tick capable of spreading disease to both humans and livestock. Bacterial diseases, as well as viral diseases, have been reported. One of the most concerning, severe fever with thrombocytopenia syndrome, can potentially be fatal.
In a statement released on July 31, Dr. Rachel Levine, secretary of health for the Pennsylvania Department of Health, said, “The discovery of the longhorn tick [here] is another reminder of the importance of tick prevention.”
The standard tick protection behaviors are effective against the longhorned ticks. Wearing long sleeves and pants when venturing into areas where ticks are known to inhabit is one of the best ways to protect yourself. It is also suggested to apply insect repellent that contains DEET. Keeping the yard mowed and long grass trimmed around high-use areas can discourage ticks from loitering on your property. After returning indoors, check yourself, your children, and your pets for ticks. When the longhorned tick has fed, it can swell to the size of a pea, but before feeding it can be as small as a grain of rice, making a careful post-outdoors inspection important.