If you’re following the news you might have heard that a new type of tick has been found in 8 states in the U.S. The perpetrator’s name? The Asian Longhorned Tick, also known as “bush tick” or by its scientific designation – “Haemaphysalis longicornis”.
You may have also heard that this Asian Longhorned arachnid is quite dangerous and can carry a lot of diseases – this is also true, in a way.
In most areas of its native Asia, the Longhorned tick has a human lethality rate of around 15% which is more than just horrific.
So, what do you need to know about this dangerous pest, how can you distinguish it from other U.S. native ticks, and what should you do if you encounter this dangerous arachnid? Let’s delve into it!
What exactly is the Asian Longhorned tick?
The “what” of the Asian Longhorned tick is pretty simple – it’s a tick species that’s been common in Asia for as long as people have been monitoring tick species but has never been seen in North America. That is, until recently.
The physical characteristics of “Haemaphysalis longicornis” are as follows – an unfed female that’s yet to attach to its victim is around 2.0 – 2.6 mm long and 1.5 – 1.8 mm wide. Once the parasite fills with blood it can reach a maximum of 9.8 mm in length and 8.2 mm in width or nearly a centimeter. In inches, this translates to one-tenth of an inch for the unfed tick and one-third of an inch for a blood-filled tick.
The Asian Longhorned tick has a black and reddish body which doesn’t differentiate it much from other tick species in the U.S. Unfortunately, to categorically distinguish an Asian Longhorned tick from other Western species, a microscopic examination is required. If you’re expecting to easily notice “long horns” on this parasite then you’ll be disappointed – the fact is that to determine whether you’ve stumbled upon an Asian Longhorned tick you’ll need to capture the parasite and deliver it to your local health department. Until you do that you’ll likely have no idea whether you’ve encountered an Asian Longhorned tick or any other species. Fortunately, the actions you’ll need to take in both cases are the same.
Where is the Asian Longhorned tick found?
The Asian Longhorned tick has been native to multiple Asian countries for millennia but it’s been recently found in 8 of the U.S. states, namely Arkansas, Connecticut, Kentucky, Maryland, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia. It’s possible and not unlikely that this rather invasive tick species have found its way to other, neighboring states as well, although that hasn’t been confirmed yet.
What diseases does the Asian Longhorned tick carry?
In Asia, the “bush tick” is known to carry a lot of dangerous diseases to both humans and animals, a lot of which are with a high mortality rate.
The most common animal disease carried by the Asian Longhorned tick is called theileriosis which is quite a problem for cattle farmers and the animals in their care – in the best case scenario, it causes blood loss and decreased milk production, while the worst-case scenarios it leads to the death of cattle and other animals.
In humans, the Asian Longhorned tick carries Lyme spirochetes, spotted fever, Ehrlichia chaffeensis, and Anaplasma bovis. However, and fortunately for U.S. citizens, CDC reports state that there’s no evidence that the Asian Longhorned ticks on U.S. soil have transmitted any diseases so far.
In other words, the fact that bush ticks in Asia transmit these diseases doesn’t mean that their U.S.-based counterparts will do the same. With that in mind, the CDC advises citizens and health organizations to view the Asian Longhorned tick similarly to how they view other North American ticks – with the same extreme caution, as the Asian Longhorned tick on American soil is much more likely to transmit the same diseases carried by other North American ticks than to transmit disease native to Asia.
Unfortunately, other North American ticks are very dangerous as well, so that’s not much of a consolation. In fact, the U.S., as well as a lot of other Western countries, has witnessed a drastic increase of tick-transmitted diseases such as Lyme disease, so tick bites were already very dangerous even before the discovery of the Asian bush tick.
What should you do if you’ve found an Asian Longhorned tick on yourself, a child or a pet?
The basic steps you should take upon discovering an Asian Longhorned tick on yourself, your pet or cattle, or a child, are the same as the steps you should take with other ticks – both because the diseases you should be wary of are nearly the same, as well as because you’ll be unlikely to distinguish an Asian Longhorned tick from other ticks with a naked eye. Here’s what you should do:
- Remove the tick as quickly as possible, following the basic tick-removal steps outlined by the CDC here – use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick, pull upward steadily and firmly, without twisting, jerking or crushing the bug, clean the bite area with rubbing alcohol after the removal, and then contact a medical professional immediately. If there is a medical professional or a medical center nearby you’d do well to just visit there immediately before taking any action yourself.
- Preserve the tick in rubbing alcohol and in a secure ziplock bag, and then take it to your nearby health department. This is vital for two reasons:
- it will allow the medical professional to more easily determine what diseases you, your child, or your pet may have contracted and how to treat them;
- it will help the medical professionals classify the tick and report the potential presence of new species such as the Asian Longhorned tick in your state and area.
The increasing presence of Asian Longhorned ticks in the U.S. is quite a problem. Then again, the presence of other native tick species in the U.S. was already increasing anyway, as were the diseases they carry. In other words, both the U.S. health departments and U.S. citizens need to start doing more for tick prevention, protection, and reports, in order to stop all tick species from spreading any further.