New tick species discovered in North Carolina

Recent tick surveys sent to the US Department of Agriculture identified a longhorned tick on an opossum in Polk County, North Carolina. The longhorned tick is an exotic species from Asia that is a serious pest of livestock.

The tick was initially identified in New Jersey in 2017, but further research into other reported ticks that may have been misidentified have revealed that the first recorded case of this tick was on a white-tailed deer in August 2010 in West Virginia. Before its introduction in North Carolina, the tick had been positively identified in Arkansas, New Jersey, Virginia and West Virginia.

“We are working with the USDA, N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, our field staff and veterinarians to help raise awareness of ticks and tick prevention,” said Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler. “The good news is that the longhorned ticks respond to insecticides used to control other common species of ticks on pets and livestock.”

Longhorned tick. Credit: State of New Jersey Dept. of Agriculture

Hosts include sheep, goats, dogs, horses, cattle deer, opossums and raccoons. There are no reports of the tick biting humans, although experts are not ruling out the possibility.

The longhorned tick is an aggressive biter and females can reproduce without a male. A single female tick can produce a local population. A three-host tick, it can spread pathogens among different hosts. Tests of ticks have revealed that it can transmit Anaplasmosis, Babesiosis, Ehrlichiosis, Theileriosis, and Rickettsiosis. However, none of these diseases have been reported in the U.S.

Because the finding of this tick is so recent, experts are still determining the means of its introduction into the U.S.

The NC Department of Agriculture and the NC Department of Health and Human Services recommend that livestock producers and residents increase their monitoring and prevention practices for this tick. Early removal is the best way to prevent and control disease spread. To prevent being bitten, practice tick-prevention detailed in this blog post. Tic-NC also has photos and information about ticks in North Carolina.

Livestock owners should use tick prevention practices in their feedlots and pastures, keeping grass and weeds mowed and clearing brush.

The NC Department of Public Health is conducting a study to identify ticks in all 100 counties of the state. Veterinarians should submit ticks they find on clinical patients to help track and identify tick populations in North Carolina. For more information about the study in North Carolina, e-mail Dr. Alexis M. Barbarin at NCTickID@dhhs.nc.gov.

For citizens who find a tick attached to an animal or a person, remove the tick immediately with fine-tipped tweezers. If tweezers are not available, shield your fingers with tissue paper, a foil-covered gum wrapper or plastic sandwich bag.

Grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible, pulling upward with steady, even pressure. Do not twist the tick as you remove it; this may cause the tick’s mouthparts to remain in the skin, increasing the risk of infection. Also do not try to smother the tick with alcohol-soaked cotton, as this will cause the tick to regurgitate while its mouthparts are still in the skin. After removing the tick, wash the affected area with soap and water, and disinfect with a topical antiseptic.

Place the tick in a zip-top bag and seal it closed. Deliver the bagged tick to your veterinarian for examination and to submit for the study.

Over-the-counter flea and tick control is effective at repelling and killing the longhorned tick. Residents and livestock owners should make sure their flea and tick program is current.

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