Health

Exotic Tick Species Possibly Established In New Jersey

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Thousands of exotic longhorned ticks were found in a sheep in New Jersey last November and were recently found to have survived the winter. Prior to the discovery, the species was not present in the United States.  ( Rainey, Occi, Robbins & Egizi | Journal of Medical Entomology )

A tick species previously not present in the United States has possibly become established in New Jersey. Authorities are working to contain the species from spreading to surrounding areas.

Tick Discovery On Sheep

On Aug. 1, 2017, a resident brought tick samples to the Hunterdon County Health Office in New Jersey after shearing Hannah, her 12-year-old Icelandic sheep. Evidently, upon ridding Hannah of her thick coat, hundreds of ticks were found to have made her their home.

Though sheep normally get infected with ticks, the discovery of East Asian ticks (Haemaphysalis longicornis) on the sheep is rather unique, as they have not been previously seen in the United States but are native to East Asia. The East Asian tick, also called the longhorned tick, has also become a major pest in New Zealand, some parts of Australia, and some Pacific Islands.

An investigation revealed that the ticks have practically invaded the property, as investigators found numerous ticks in various active life stages all over the sheep’s body and found larva from the field.

“The ticks in the paddock were so numerous that they crawled on investigators’ pants soon after setting foot inside,” stated researchers in the paper published in the Journal of Medical Entomology, detailing the discovery.

She has since been treated with a permethrin wash, and follow-up visits showed that there were no more ticks on the sheep or in the property. However, the dates of the follow-ups were associated with below-freezing temperatures, so at the time, researchers surmised that the ticks might have died off or retreated below the soil.

Overwintered In New Jersey

New Jersey authorities’ latest update on the matter reveals that the ticks successfully overwintered in the state and thus has possibly become an established species. As such, local, state, and federal authorities are working together to contain the ticks’ spread to surrounding areas and to eradicate the pest. They’re also expected to work with the public to gather vital information, as well as to educate them on how to protect livestock and pets.

As such, authorities are urging the public to contact the state veterinarian and the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife, Bureau of Wildlife Management should anyone notice unusual ticks.

So far, investigators are still unsure as to how the ticks came to the state since Hannah has no history of traveling internationally or even just outside the county.

Potential Threat

Though initial investigations did not reveal any tick-borne diseases from the ticks, the threat of disease transmission persists. Further, as the ticks are very small and known to infest deer and other hosts, it has a potential to transfer from one animal to another without going noticed, opening the possibility of infecting multiple Northern American wildlife species.

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