New tick species can trans­mit deadly dis­ease

The Idaho Statesman (Sunday) - - DEPTH - BY LENA H. SUN Wash­ing­ton Post


A new in­va­sive tick species ca­pa­ble of trans­mit­ting sev­eral se­vere dis­eases is spread­ing in the United States, pos­ing an emerg­ing threat to hu­man and an­i­mal health, ac­cord­ing to a pair of re­ports is­sued Thurs­day.

The Asian longhorned tick is the first in­va­sive tick to ar­rive in the United States in about 80 years. It’s na­tive to east­ern China, Ja­pan, the Rus­sian Far East and the Korean Penin­sula, and is now also es­tab­lished in Aus­tralia and New Zealand.

In Au­gust of last year, it was dis­cov­ered on a 12year-old pet Ice­landic sheep in west­ern New Jer­sey. Since then, the tick has been found in Arkansas, Con­necti­cut, Mary­land, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Vir­ginia and West Vir­ginia.

The species has been found found on pets, live­stock, wildlife and peo­ple. So far, though, there is no ev­i­dence that the tick has spread pathogens to hu­mans, do­mes­tic an­i­mals or wildlife in the United States, ac­cord­ing to a re­port from the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion.

But pub­lic-health of­fi­cials are wor­ried about the po­ten­tial for Haema­physalis longi­cor­nis to spread dis­ease. In other parts of the world, it is a ma­jor live­stock pest; its bites can make peo­ple and an­i­mals se­ri­ously ill. In some parts of Aus­tralia and New Zealand, the ticks can suck so much blood from dairy cat­tle that they cause milk pro­duc­tion to drop by 25 per­cent, re­searchers have found.

In Asia, the tick car­ries a virus that causes hu­man hem­or­rhagic fever and kills up to 30 per­cent of its vic­tims. Al­though that virus is not in the United States, it is closely re­lated to the Heart­land virus, an­other life-threat­en­ing tick-borne dis­ease that cir­cu­lates in the United States. Health of­fi­cials are par­tic­u­larly con­cerned about the tick’s abil­ity to adapt to be a vec­tor for that virus and other tick­borne ill­nesses in the United States.

The tick “is po­ten­tially ca­pa­ble of spread­ing a large num­ber of dis­eases,” said Lyle Petersen, direc­tor of CDC’S Di­vi­sion of Vec­tor-borne Dis­eases. “We re­ally don’t know if dis­eases will be spread by this tick in the United States, and if so, to what ex­tent. But it’s very im­por­tant that we fig­ure this out quickly.”

The fe­male tick can also lay hun­dreds of fer­tile eggs with­out mat­ing, “re­sult­ing in mas­sive host in­fes­ta­tions,” the CDC re­port said.

Ill­nesses from mos­quito, tick and flea bites more than tripled in the United States from 2004 to 2016, ac­cord­ing to the CDC. The in­crease in these vec­tor-borne dis­eases has many un­der­ly­ing causes: ex­pand­ing travel and trade, ur­ban­iza­tion, pop­u­la­tion growth and in­creas­ing tem­per­a­tures.

Warm­ing tem­per­a­tures and cli­mate change make the en­vi­ron­ment more hos­pitable to ticks or mosquitoes that spread pathogens and in­crease the length of the sea­son when ticks are ac­tive, Petersen said.

Next week, of­fi­cials from sev­eral fed­eral agen­cies – in­clud­ing the CDC, the De­part­ment of Agri­cul­ture, the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency, the Na­tional Park Ser­vice and the De­part­ment of De­fense – are meet­ing to develop a na­tional co­or­di­nated strat­egy for fight­ing these vec­tor-borne dis­eases.

“The prob­lems are get­ting worse and worse,” Petersen said, not­ing that ev­ery state ex­cept Alaska is grap­pling with a rise in these dis­eases. “We’re los­ing this bat­tle.”

Of­fi­cials said they are try­ing to raise aware­ness among pub­lic health of­fi­cials, health-care pro­fes­sion­als and vet­eri­nar­i­ans about the po­ten­tial threat from this species. In ad­di­tion to the CDC re­port, Petersen and CDC col­leagues pub­lished a com­pan­ion pa­per in the Amer­i­can Jour­nal of Trop­i­cal Medicine and Hy­giene high­light­ing the “con­sid­er­able gaps” in the abil­ity of pub­lic health sys­tems to re­spond to these dis­eases.

Many dis­eases spread by ticks are un­der­re­ported.

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