Images of a nymph and adult female Asian longhorned tick, which the CDC says is new to the United States as of October 2018. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
Photo: CDC
Photo: CDC

New, deadly tick could be headed for Georgia

Tick season in Georgia is a year-round concern, which has state health officials expressing growing trepidation about a breed of the insect that could arrive in Georgia next year.

In just a year the Asian longhorned tick has made its way up and down the Eastern seaboard from New Jersey, where it first turned up in 2017. It has been found since then in Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and more recently North Carolina, before migrating west to West Virginia and Arkansas. Health officials are unsure how it first arrived in the U.S.

The tick has proven deadly in the Eastern hemisphere, where it carries several diseases that affect humans and animals. And, the tick can multiply more rapidly than others. The female tick can lay eggs and reproduce without mating. It can also over-winter, which researchers have cited as a factor in its rapid spread. When it finds a host, the insect can reproduce in the thousands. In livestock, it can drink enough of the animals’ blood to cause severe anemia.

The Georgia Department of Agriculture and the Georgia Department of Public Health have increased the state’s tick surveillance program and are taking extra samples of ticks provided by veterinarians treating animals plagued by other varieties of the insect.

“The full public health and agricultural impact of this tick discovery and spread is unknown,” said Ben Beard, Ph.D., deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Vector-Borne Diseases. “In other parts of the world, the Asian longhorned tick can transmit many types of pathogens common in the United States. We are concerned that this tick, which can cause massive infestations on animals, on people, and in the environment, is spreading in the United States.”

And while it’s tempting to believe cold weather may mean ticks are less active, that’s not the case. “Although we see more tick infestations during the summer months, ticks are a year-round concern here in Georgia because of our mild climate,” said Julie McPeake, agriculture department spokesperson in an email.

In appearance, the ticks resemble Georgia’s most common tick, the Lone Star tick, though it’s missing the telltale white dot on its back, the birthmark of the Lone Star tick.

Health officials warn the Asian longhorned tick can be dangerous to humans, pets and especially livestock. So far, no human cases of any diseases related to the Asian longhorn have been reported in the U. S. But in other countries, bites from the breed have caused serious illness in both humans and pets, according to the CDC.

Researchers say the Asian longhorns carry a pathogen that is similar to Lyme disease but that pathogen hasn’t been found in the variety of the breed currently spreading in the U.S. Lyme disease, which is spread from the bites of black-legged ticks, if left untreated can cause, arthritis, heart palpitations, nerve pain and inflammation of the brain. The tick has been the culprit in several deaths in the Far East of people who’ve been bitten by the insect. The disease is called “severe fever with thrombocytopenia syndrome virus” and can cause a hemorrhagic fever.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.