BALTIMORE, MD – An Asian tick capable of reproducing at remarkable speed and gorging on so much blood that it kills itself has been found in Maryland. It's the first new species of tick to be found in the United States in 50 years, the New York Times reports. The longhorned tick was first found on a white-tailed deer in Washington County in June and was confirmed on July 27, state health officials said.
The long-horned tick, Haemaphysalis longicornis, was first seen in the U.S. infesting the ear of a sheep in Hunterdon County, New Jersey, and has since been found in many suburban areas surrounding New York City, the report said. On Tuesday, the Maryland Department of Health said the longhorned tick has been found in eight states — New Jersey, West Virginia, Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, New York, Pennsylvania and now Maryland.
Experts say the longhorned ticks found in the United States — including the tick confirmed in Maryland and those in Virginia — have not been found to carry infectious pathogens.
"In order to keep livestock and pets safe, we encourage owners to check their animals for a high concentration of tick bites or abnormal ticks," said the Maryland Department of Agriculture's State Veterinarian Dr. Michael Radebaugh. "This species of ticks are known to cling to hosts in high numbers. If too many of these ticks attach themselves to an animal, it could cause stunted growth, decreased production, major blood loss, and has the potential to spread diseases."
In Asia, the species carries a virus that is fatal for 15 percent of its victims. No human disease has yet been found in the insects discovered in the U.S, though health experts told the New York Times they are concerned.
Female long-horned ticks can lay 800 to 2,000 fertile eggs at one time without mating once it feeds on a host, the health department says. The longhorned tick — also called the bush tick — feeds on livestock, poultry, wild birds, pets, small mammals and humans.
"The discovery of the longhorn tick in Maryland reinforces the need of residents to practice tick prevention methods," said state Health Services Deputy Secretary Dr. Howard Haft in a news release. "Avoiding wooded and brushy areas, wearing long pants and long sleeves, using repellant, and performing tick checks after being outside will all help prevent tickborne diseases."
This tick species is easily mistaken for other common ticks found in Maryland. Hard to see with the naked eye, the brown-colored tick has distinctive "horns" that can be viewed under a microscope.
People are urged to use repellants and check themselves for ticks after being in the woods or walking through long grass.
Ticks are usually found in tall grasses, meadows, pastures and wooded areas. Protect yourself, your family, livestock and pets from tick bites by following these tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
Avoid ticks by staying on walking paths, trails, or pavement. In woodlands or grassy areas wear long pants that you tuck into your socks and light colored clothing so you spot ticks as they move. Apply repellents. Put your cloths directly in a clothes dryer when you get home; the heat will kill ticks.
Inspect yourself, your family, and your pets thoroughly when you get home and when taking a shower. A thorough inspection may involve enlisting a helper to view those "hard to see" areas.
Remove ticks right away by firmly grasping it as close to your skin as possible using a pair of fine forceps or tweezers and slowly, steadily pull the tick out. Cleanse the area with antiseptic.
If you find a suspected longhorned tick on you, your livestock, or your pet, state officials ask that you fill out a tick identification form. Information regarding shipping instructions and where to send the specimen is on the form.
The full New York Times report can be found here.
Photo of East Asian tick courtesy of the New Jersey Department of Agriculture