In Connecticut, residents are no stranger to ticks. The black-legged deer tick has been our nemesis since we first discovered that they were the cause of arthritic symptoms found in young children of Old Lyme in the seventies.
Later, in the early eighties, this particular species of ticks was identified as a carrier of a bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi. Soon after, deer ticks were labeled as the principal vectors of what became known as Lyme Disease.
Since that time, Lyme Disease has become an all too familiar term in the Constitution State and it has gained national attention. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that its reach has extended to at least fourteen states. They estimate 300,000 cases per year, while not all diagnosed or reported, could be likely.
While Lyme Disease is concentrated in the northeastern portions of the United States, there are concerns that migrating birds could potentially carry millions of deer ticks to additional states. With no vaccine currently available, this is a problem that we hope not to face. What’s worse, the black-legged deer tick does not only carry Lyme Disease but also anaplasmosis, babesiosis and Powassan virus.
But Connecticut and neighboring states are now concerned with another possible scenario, one that could make our battle against ticks even harder. What if southern ticks migrated north?
While residents are already faced with finding ways to ward off the black-legged deer tick in our state, there have recently been two non-native invasive ticks that have been found in Danbury and Westport. These ticks are the Asian Long-Horned tick and the Lone Star tick.
The two ticks are primarily southeastern pests, perhaps driven north by climate change, and have recently shown up in New Jersey (2017) and then in Connecticut (2018). These new species will undoubtedly bring new health risks and infestation concerns to humans and animals in our area. The unexpected reality that they are showing up here could be an indicator that other northeastern states may also begin to find them.
So why should we be concerned?
Invasive species can be very hard to control and can contribute to a loss of biodiversity. Biodiversity enables ecosystem productivity and allows for the natural sustainability of all life forms large and small.
In the case of the Asian long horned tick, it can reproduce very rapidly and make infestation possible or likely. This is due to its females ability to produce eggs without mating. In fact, a single female can produce thousands of eggs on her own.
Therefore, the Asian Long-Horned tick is a threat to animals. Livestock, various mammals, and pets can become quick hosts to these ticks and when they find one, they infest the animal and suck their blood. While it is unclear whether or not these ticks carry pathogens like the Black-legged deer tick, there is some relief in knowing that these ticks are not known to seek humans.
Oh good. But not so fast... The Lone Star tick is also making its way north and is the more aggressive of the ticks mentioned. It will actively pursue its host and is known for its spread of ehrlichiosis which can lead to a myriad of symptoms including a severe allergy to red meat. This is something commonly known in the south.
These new threats are, at the very least, are a cause for pause in the state of Connecticut. We don’t need anymore ticks to worry about and it is best if we proceed with a close eye on these unwelcome intruders. Remember, as of now the number of actual findings of these invasive ticks in Connecticut is small. But the potential threat is real.