The Asian longhorned tick used to be a species only found in China, Japan, Korea and southeastern Russia, plus parts of Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands. But last year, an established population was found in New Jersey, and since then, the ticks have been found in eight other states. Because the tick is parthenogenetic — which means the females can reproduce without needing male DNA — it is possible that it will soon occupy large parts of the Pacific Northwest and the eastern U.S.
“There is a good chance for this tick to become widely distributed in North America,” said Ilia Rochlin, a researcher at the Rutgers University Center for Vector Biology. “Mosquito control has been very successful in this country, but we are losing the battle with tick-borne diseases.”
The Asian longhorned tick’s ability to clone makes it possible for them to cause “massive” infestations of hosts, and Rochlin said that researchers have already seen large numbers on livestock and dogs. He added that the ticks can bite humans, pets, farm animals and wildlife.
The Journal of Medical Entomology published new research about the tick last week, and even though the tick can cause infectious disease, there have not been any reported illnesses in animals or humans in the U.S.
One of the diseases the Asian longhorned tick can transmit is a hemorrhagic illness called thrombocytopenia syndrome. According to the CDC, the illness recently emerged in China, South Korea and Japan. The syndrome causes severe fever, nausea, diarrhea and muscle pain. Most patients must be hospitalized, and almost a third of infected people have died.
The tick can also carry other illnesses like Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis and anaplasmosis. Rochlin said that all of these illnesses can lead to severe disabilities.
Asian longhorned ticks can spread quickly in favorable habitats. If you add that to their aggressive biting behavior and potential for carrying pathogens, Rochlin said the tick is a significant public health concern.
Image via James Gathany / CDC