The bite of the Asian longhorned tick can be fatal

Brace For Another Tick-Borne Malaise




The Asian longhorned tick was firmly ensconced in New Zealand in 2016, happily feeding off livestock. How it found it way to New Jersey the next year, and now the East End, will probably never be known, experts agree.

But like many of its brethren, the tick can make you sick, but unlike most, this one can kill you.

On the East End, the lone star tick is challenging the deer tick for dominance. Their numbers run into the hundreds of millions. Only a few longhorned ticks have been identified in this area, but the species has the capacity to multiply quickly.

Brian Kelly, the owner of East End Tick and Mosquito Control, pointed out the Asian longhorned female can reproduce on its own, making a population explosion a real concern.

There have been several fatalities caused by the tick’s bite. Discovered on a New Jersey sheep farm in late 2017, this type of tick is known to transmit severe fever with thrombocytopenia syndrome. It has since been identified in neighboring states.

As of March 25, 2019, longhorned ticks have been found from Arkansas up though the Carolinas and Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New York.

Kelly noted that lifestyles have changed on the East End because of ticks. Gardeners have reduced their efforts and hikers are reluctant to go on trails. “My job is to keep people safe,” Kelly said. He offered that “most people” do not wear long-sleeve shirts and long pants when venturing into areas that may hold ticks, as recommended, and that tick repellent is underused.

“When you get up in the morning and brush your teeth and get ready to go out,” Kelly recommends that the application of repellent be added to your routine if outdoor activity is planned. He said Permethrin is the best, and should be applied to clothing, socks, and shoes. Natural repellents are less effective in his estimation.

He hosts a program he calls Tick Wise in schools and summer camps. It teaches kids how to keep exposure to a minimum and how to deal with ticks when they find them. “We had 3000 kids last summer,” he pointed out.

Until now, the most serious tick-caused ailment has been the alpha-gal reaction, a severe allergy to red meat triggered by a bite from the lone star tick. For some people with severe allergies, that could mean a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis as their immune system releases chemicals that flood the body. This can lead to anaphylactic shock. Alpha-gal was first confirmed on the East End in 2009.

Dr. Scott Commins, an allergist and immunologist then associated with the University of Virginia, said in a 2009 interview, “At first we thought it was only the lone star, but now we’re seeing it in places where there are no lone star ticks.”

Each year there are “many billions of ticks and hundreds of thousands of tick-borne disease cases estimated in the U.S.,” said Dr. Christopher Paddock of the federal Centers for Disease Control. Paddock specializes in rickettsial infections, or spotted fevers, including Rocky Mountain spotted fever, typhus, anaplasmosis, and ehrlichiosis.

Scientists at Rutgers University in New Jersey are looking at ways to eliminate the Asian longhorned tick, which is hard to detect on animals and people.

rmurphy@indyeastend.com