• Infectious Diseases

    Concern over Lone Star tick as tick season begins

a lone star tick on a blade of grass

Ticks are a common concern in the spring as more people head outdoors. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a report that says the Lone Star tick is carrying the Heartland virus, which can cause illness or even death for those with underlying conditions.

It's an aggressive tick that can transmit many different pathogens to humans, including the Heartland virus. The virus has been found in six states — most recently in Georgia.

"The Lone Star tick, scientifically known as Amblyomma americanum, is a pretty aggressive biting tick that we've actually known about since 1758. That was when it was first described. It has been around for a long time, but its numbers have been increasing. In the past few decades, it's gone from just primarily the southern areas of the U.S. to the central U.S, the Southeast, the Northeast, and even as far up as Wisconsin," says Dr. Bobbi Pritt, director of the Clinical Parasitology Laboratory in Mayo Clinic's Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology.

No other tick is known to carry the Heartland virus, but Dr. Pritt says ticks are in just about every part of the U.S. Depending on the part of the country, those ticks can transmit several harmful pathogens.

Lyme disease is the No. 1 tick-borne disease in North America. It's caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi and Borrelia mayonii.

Watch: Dr. Bobbi Pritt talks about the Lone Star tick and bite prevention strategies.

Journalists: Broadcast-quality video is available in the downloads at the end of the post. Please "Courtesy: Mayo Clinic News Network." Name super/CG: Bobbi Pritt, M.D. Microbiology"

The Mayo Clinic News Network team sat down with Dr. Pritt to get answers to these questions about the Heartland virus, concerns about ticks and what people can do to prevent tick bites:

What is the Heartland virus?
The Heartland virus is a potentially deadly virus. It is a type of virus called a Banda virus, and it's relatively new.

It was discovered in 2009 when two men who were unrelated became ill in northwest Missouri. They did an evaluation and found this new virus in their bodies.

Since then, we know that there's been more than 50 human cases across 11 states, mostly in the Midwest and the South. This includes Georgia, which is where we've seen recent reports of finding Heartland virus and ticks.

What are the ABCs of tick prevention?
"A" stands for avoid ticks when possible. Thankfully, they are in the great outdoors, but there are some places outdoors that are more likely to have ticks.

If you are going into a forest for example, if there are areas with a lot of undergrowth, leaf litter, and tall grasses, those would be the areas where you'd be more likely to encounter the ticks. Whereas, if you're taking a walk and there's a nice clear path, you could stay in the middle of the path and really decrease your chances of encountering ticks.

"B" stands for bug spray. Whenever you go outdoors, and it's in the summer, spring and early fall when tick-borne diseases are a risk, you also want to wear a bug spray.

The CDC recommends a bug spray that either contains DEET 30% or picaridin. You also could use a bug spray that has oil of lemon eucalyptus in it. Those are all effective.

The Environmental Protection Agency has rated all the different types of bugs spray, and tick and mosquito repellents, and has shown them to be very effective.

Third is "C" and that's clothing. What you're wearing can help protect you from ticks.

If you're going outside, and you're going to be going through areas where there are tall grasses, you're going to be exposed to areas where ticks may be. Something as simple as tucking your pants into your socks could help prevent the ticks from finding their skin where they can bite. That's not always comfortable when it's very warm outside so that's where the combination of clothing and bug spray come together.

Does spring bring a heightened concern for tick activity?
This is a perfect time to start thinking about tick-borne diseases. In the Upper Midwest, we're finally starting to see some green grass again. As soon as the snow melts, ticks are potentially out and biting. From early spring until fall, right before the snow falls, is a potential time for getting tick-borne diseases.

Spring is considered a more dangerous time, though, especially where the black-legged ticks, also sometimes called the deer tick, is found. That because the early stages of that tick are very small — about the size of a poppy seed. They can be very difficult to see on you if they're attached and biting you.

They're capable of transmitting Lyme disease if they're attached for long enough. That is why it's important to know what's out there and then use the ABCs of tick prevention to hopefully protect yourself from tick bites.

Read more about ticks:

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