• By Deborah Balzer

Infectious Diseases A–Z: Why the Asian longhorned tick is more than a menace

June 10, 2019
closeup of Asian longhorned tick

The first human bite in the U.S. by Haemaphysalis longicornis, commonly known as the Asian longhorned tick, has been reported. "As the name implies, the tick was originally from Asia," says Dr. Bobbi Pritt, a parasitic diseases expert at Mayo Clinic. "It then spread accidentally to other countries including New Zealand, Australia, some Pacific Islands, and most recently, the U.S."

The tick, first discovered in the U.S. on a sheep in 2017, is now in these 11 states:

  • Arkansas
  • Connecticut
  • Kentucky
  • Maryland
  • North Carolina
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Pennsylvania
  • Tennessee
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia

Dr. Pritt recently published a paper on the invasive tick.

Watch: Dr. Bobbi Pritt talks about the Asian longhorned tick.

Journalists: Broadcast-quality sound bites with Dr. Bobbi Pritt are in the downloads at the end of the post. Please "Courtesy: Mayo Clinic News Network."

As part of Dr. Pritt's paper, she also answered questions about what the latest news means:

Is there cause for concern about the Asian longhorned tick?

"First of all, they can reproduce in very large numbers. The female tick doesn't need a male in order to mate. She can produce viable offspring on her own," says Dr. Pritt. "We know it bites humans in the other countries it's in, and in the other countries, it actually transmits some pretty nasty pathogens, some viruses and bacteria that can be quite serious. The concern is that if those bacteria or viruses were ever introduced here, it could be transmitted to us, as well."

Is there a virus associated to the Asian longhorned tick?

"One virus, in particular, we'd be quite worried about is one called severe fever with thrombocytopenia syndrome virus, which causes a potentially fatal hemorrhagic fever," says Dr. Pritt. "The virus has not been found in the U.S."

What work is being done is the U.S. to contain the tick?

"The USDA Department of Agriculture is doing a lot of work monitoring this tick and contain its spread throughout the U.S. The concern would be is that it could spread across many different states in the U.S. and take hold and thrive. We definitely want to contain it and do damage control at this point. Maybe in the future, we'll be able to eliminate it, but for now it. But for now, it is here with us for the foreseeable future."

How widespread is the tick in the U.S.?

"We know that the tick has been confirmed in 11 states, but that may change," says Dr. Pritt. "We also need to understand if it is capable of transmitting various harmful bacteria viruses and even parasites, particularly ones that are already here. More research needs to be done to better understand the tick."

Are there ways to avoid tick bites?

"Wearing a tick repellent when you're going outdoors is going to be very important, wearing covering clothing, tucking your pants into socks, and then checking for ticks when you come inside. That's going to be more important than ever."

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