“I’ve been dreading the day they found them in Tennessee. It could be a huge problem for pets and livestock.”
Dr. kristi sharpe, dvm
The Asian longhorned tick has arrived in East Tennessee, state officials said late Friday.
The state Department of Agriculture, Department of Health and University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture announced jointly late Friday afternoon that the invasive parasitic species has been found in two locations in East Tennessee — making the Volunteer State the 11th state to be impacted by the tick’s spread.
Two Asian longhorned ticks were recently found on a dog in Union County, officials said, and five were found on a cow in Roane County.
“Tennessee has a relatively large amount and variety of ticks,” said Dr. R.T. Trout Fryxell, associate professor of medical and veterinary entomology at the University of Tennessee. “It is important to be diligent and keep an eye out for all ticks because many varieties can transmit pathogens or cause painful bites.”
The longhorned tick is native to East Asia. While it had been intercepted at ports on imported animals several times, it was not known to exist in the mainland United States until November 2017, when it was discovered on a sheep farm in New Jersey. Efforts to eradicate it there failed; it over-wintered and established itself as an invasive species before later beginning to spread to other states. The tick’s spread is primarily due to birds; the ticks attach themselves to various species of birds and travel quickly.
“I’ve been dreading the day they found them in Tennessee,” said Dr. Kristi Sharpe, a veterinarian at Highland Veterinary Hospital in Oneida. “It could be a huge problem for pets and livestock.”
The longhorned tick is known to be a livestock pest, feeding on farm animals like cattle, horses, sheep, pigs and chickens. It has also been on dogs and cats, as well as humans. Infestations occur in the wild, as well. So far, the tick has been found on 17 different species of mammals in the U.S.
“The female ticks can clone themselves and don’t necessarily require a male to mate and reproduce,” Sharpe said. “This equates to a tick that can cause an infestation much more rapidly than those that have to mate.”
Infestations can be serious in animals. The ticks have been known to cause such serious infestations in pets and livestock that they insanguinate their host — or drain it of blood — Sharpe said.
The ticks are also a concern as disease-carriers. They transmit a disease called theileriosis to cattle, which can cause death in calves and decreased milk production in dairy cattle.
“It can also carry Huaiyangshan banyangvirus which causes severe fever with thrombocytopenia syndrome,” Sharpe said. “SFTS is a condition that causes bleeding disorders and organ damage. So far none of the ticks in the U.S. have tested positive for this virus, but it is considered endemic in China and other Asian countries. So it’s not outside the realm of possibility that the arrival of this tick in the U.S> could have introduced yet another tick-borne disease we have to worry about.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention has reported that there is no evidence that the tick has transmitted pathogens to humans or animals in the U.S. so far.
Sharpe said researchers are unsure of the longhorned tick’s ability to transmit diseases like Lyme and Ehrlichia. But, she said,”the potential is definitely there.”
Sharpe said that people should follow general precautions to protect against all ticks. That includes using an FDA-approved repellent, tucking your pants into your socks when you’re out and about in the woods, and doing nightly tick checks on yourself and your pets.
“All veterinary-labeled tick preventatives should provide protection against the Asian longhorn,” she said. “Don’t trust grocery store brands because they usually do not provide adequate tick coverage.”
Fryxell recommended that pet owners and farmers who find a tick on an animal should put the tick in a ziplock bag after removing it with tweezers, writing down the date and where the tick was most likely encountered, and storing it in a freezer. “If any symptoms of a tick-borne disease begin to develop, you should bring the tick to your veterinarian,” Fryxell said.