Warm weather is finally here, which of course means the ticks are also upon us (it is Lyme Disease Awareness Month, after all). The nausea-inducing horror story this year (thanks, New Jersey!) is the East Asian tick, also known as the longhorn or bush tick. These guys can basically clone themselves.
These invaders were found for the first time in rural New Jersey last year, when a farmer showed up to the Hunterdon County division of health covered in tiny ticks. More than 1,000 of them. They've since been found at a second site in Union County and the National Veterinary Services laboratory says they've "possibly become established in the state."
Scientists don’t know how these ticks landed in New Jersey, though they do know it’s the first time they’ve been seen in America. In Asia, they are best known for spreading SFTS virus, “an emerging hemorrhagic fever” according to the Centers for Disease control. Other hemorrhagic fevers include Ebola and yellow fever.
Oh, and they reproduce asexually. Just one of them can lay thousands of eggs.
But Andrea Egizi, a research scientist for Monmouth County’s Tick-Bourne Diseases Lab and a visiting professor at Rutgers said New Yorkers should be “concerned but not alarmed.”
First: “People might have a picture in their mind, of the ticks splitting in half like bacteria. It’s not like that,” Egizi said. “Females don’t need to mate to lay eggs. So you need only one tick to start a population, and that population can potentially increase faster than those where ticks have to wait to find a mate.”
Even better: that creepy asexual reproduction means that so far, all the ticks tested in New Jersey have the same DNA. “It could end up working to our advantage. If one genotype is susceptible to a certain insecticide, every tick would be susceptible. It could be a good thing in some ways,” she said.
Plus, Egizi said the ticks tested didn’t have any diseases and “We don’t know for sure if they can transmit our native pathogens,” like Lyme.
But that doesn’t mean you should stop checking for ticks, because reports of tick-bourne diseases are rising throughout our region. They're just carried by native ticks, not these new invaders.
The helpful NYC.gov site tells us that there are three types of ticks found in the city:
— CDC (@CDCgov) May 4, 2018
Blacklegged or deer ticks. These suckers transmit Lyme disease, anaplasmosis — which causes flu-like symptoms — the malaria-like babesiosis, and tick paralysis. It’s not like every playground has them — actually, the state department of health says they are only well-established on Staten Island and parts of the Bronx — but they have been collected from woody parks in every borough except Manhattan. They are also on Long Island, in Westchester, and in many counties in upstate New York.
The tick's territory is spreading. https://t.co/Jxn3HeGEnO
— Popular Science (@PopSci) May 14, 2018
Lone star ticks. Only occasionally seen in the city but a pest on Long Island, they carry the flu-like ehrlichiosis, tick paralysis, and Southern Tick Associated Rash Illness. Oh, and they can make you allergic to eating meat.
It's tick time, so be on alert when you're outdoors. The most common kind in the Omaha area? The American dog tick. https://t.co/XL62L8ObL1
— Omaha World-Herald (@OWHnews) April 27, 2018
American dog ticks have been found throughout the city. They can give you Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tick paralysis.
“An old misconception is that ticks are only found in the woods, when y ou’re hiking,” Egizi said. “But American dog ticks are in meadows, open areas, playgrounds, parks, and wooded edges —like a baseball field with woods behind it.”
The Centers for Disease Control says New York has the second-highest number of reported cases of tick-bourne diseases, after Pennsylvania. In 2016, 51 cases of Lyme were reported in the Bronx, 322 in Brooklyn, 322 in Manhattan, 128 in Queens and 123 in Staten Island. These numbers don’t mean that 322 people got Lyme disease from a Manhattan tick — it means that 322 Manhattanites picked up a tick — which could have happened in New York, or Connecticut, the Hamptons, or any place else with tall grass — and got Lyme disease. The New Jersey Department of Health said Monday that last year, the state had the highest number of reported cases of Lyme since 2000.
You may also have heard of the Powassan virus, spread by ticks. (Sen. Charles Schumer made it the centerpiece of a press conference in Central Park a few years ago.) The first thing you should know: it’s very, very rare. There are one to two cases a year in New York State and none so far in the city. A single Powassan-infected tick was found in the Bronx in 2016. But the virus can become a potentially life-threatening brain inflammation and it’s not treatable.
What should you do to avoid ticks? You know the drill. You wear long sleeves, light colors and closed shoes that you’ve sprayed with a Permethrin-containing tick repellent. And you put DEET on your skin. But let’s face it — you’re probably not wearing long sleeves as you wander through a city park when it’s 90 degrees outside.
So focus on making sure you check your body — and your dog, and your children — when you come in from sitting on the grass, especially the hidden areas on your body like belly buttons. You can also throw your clothes in the highest setting of your dryer, which will kill ticks. Most ticks need to be eating for about 24 hours before you get a disease, so it’s better to prevent that. If you see one and you’re too squeamish to remove it yourself, or you don’t have sharp enough tweezers, a doctor or clinic can remove it for you.
Want to identify the tick you found? Here are some private labs that can do that for you.
Click play below to listen to this morning's on-air segment about ticks: