The longhorned tick has been found in Westchester County. County and state officials confirmed their findings this month. Officials say the threat is mainly to livestock. But there is concern about whether it will transmit disease to humans.
Dr. Sherlita Amler is Westchester County health commissioner.
“It’s noteworthy because it’s the first time we’ve seen this tick in New York,” Amler says. “The tick is normally a native to Australia, New Zealand and eastern Asia. But it’s been recently found in New Jersey, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina and Arkansas.”
The New York state Health Department says it will continue to conduct surveillance and research on this new type of tick, and that it is encouraging that the same steps that protect against deer ticks are also effective against the longhorned tick. Again, Westchester County’s Amler:
“To date, there have been no reported cases of human disease associated with the longhorned tick in the United States,” Amler says. “As a health department, we will continue to remain vigilant and continue to monitor for human cases related to this particular tick.”
Mary Beth Pfeiffer is an investigative journalist and author of “Lyme: The First Epidemic of Climate Change.”
“This is a very disturbing development in the realm of possible tick-borne disease. Here is a tick we never had before until it was discovered in New Jersey just last summer. And now it is spreading like wildfire. It has turned up in several states. It is now in New York,” Pfeiffer says. “And while it is sudden and its spread is really unprecedented, the Asia tick is symptomatic of the ticks and the threat that we face from them today.”
She mentions the spread in the U.S. of other tick species, including to the Northeast. Amler says the tick was found in multiple locations in Westchester County.
“Well, in Asia, it is has been known to cause an infection that results in high fever and low platelet counts,” says Amler. “There’s some theoretical data that it might be able to carry Lyme disease, but we’ve not had any cases, so I don’t know that for certain. So I think what we have to do is wait and see.”
She says the longhorned tick has transmitted disease to humans in other parts of the world, and more research is needed to determine whether this can happen in the United States.
The state Department of Agriculture & Markets says the tick is a concern for the agricultural industry and encourages livestock owners and veterinarians to be vigilant for unusually heavy tick infestations. Spokesman Steve Ammerman says the New York Farm Bureau has passed along Ag and markets info to farmers, urging them to check their animals for ticks and symptoms of tick-borne illnesses.
“And this ties into a priority of New York Farm Bureau’s, and that has been to bring more attention to tick-borne illnesses in general. Our farmers have seen more ticks on the farm and we’ve also seen a greater incident of tick borne-diseases like Lyme disease,” says Ammerman. “A lot of it had started in Long Island and Hudson Valley, but really we’ve seen it move to the western part of the state. And we’ve encouraged more funding not only for research but also to encourage and look for a vaccine because this is a serious issue only for our farmers but the public in general.”
A vaccine, he says, for people. With a number of county fairs in New York taking place this summer, and the prevalence of livestock at these fairs, Pfeiffer says the longhorned tick presents a genuine concern, even with no known cases of disease transmitted to people in the U.S.
“But the fact that people are going to fairs, that there’s a lot of livestock there, that the livestock may be trading tick or passing ticks themselves and perhaps to people is a genuine concern," says Pfeiffer. “As far as this tick goes, we know very little about its possible threat. We know that it has been associated with pathogens like anaplasma, with spotted fever, with babesia. These are all germs that we need to really fear and have concern about. We don’t even know what the potential is to spread these diseases from the Asia tick to people.”
A state Ag and Markets spokeswoman says veterinarians and veterinary technicians from the Department’s Division of Animal Industry are present at every county fair and the state fair to provide a thorough check of all the animals that arrive for competition. She says the biggest concerns the Department sees regarding the longhorned tick are livestock that are checked infrequently by their owners, as may be the case in some pastured animals. She says fair animals typically arrive well-groomed and free of external parasites, so while inspectors will be on the lookout for unusual ticks, they don’t expect problems.