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Health officials find South Carolina's first large infestation of invasive tick, in York County

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Kyndall Braumuller
/
University of South Carolina

The Asian longhorned tick is the kind of parasite that gives virologists nightmares. It doesn’t need a mate to reproduce, and it can lay as many as 2,000 eggs at a time. It can also spread a slate of diseases to people, pets, and livestock.

And state health and livestock officials announced Friday morning that this invasive tick has infested an undisclosed York County cattle farm.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Asian longhorned ticks were first identified in the United States in 2010 and have since been found in 17 states. In South Carolina, a small number of these ticks were identified in 2020 on shelter dogs in Lancaster and Pickens counties, through the state’s tick surveillance program – a collaborative effort between DHEC, the University of South Carolina Arnold School of Public Health and Clemson University Livestock Poultry Health.. (See South Carolina Public Radio coverage from May, 2021 HERE.)

“While no documented cases of diseases such as Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, or anaplasmosis have been reported in the United States due to bites from Asian longhorned ticks, the ability of this tick species to spread diseases that can make people and animals ill is a concern,” said Dr. Chris Evans, state public health entomologist at DHEC. “However … the ability of this tick species to increase its populations very quickly, leading to large infestations in a short amount of time, is also concerning.”

Dr. Michael Neault, South Carolina State veterinarian and director of Clemson University’s Livestock Poultry Health Department, says animal owners should consult with their veterinarians about the use of products approved in the United States for other tick species that are found to be effective in treating animals with the Asian longhorned tick.

“The establishment of the Asian longhorned tick has real animal and human health concerns,” said Dr. Melissa Nolan, assistant professor of epidemiology in the Arnold School of Public Health and of the university of South Carolina’s Laboratory of Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases. “We are asking the public to send us any ticks they encounter in their everyday lives to help us track and monitor its spread. With local help, I believe we can slow the spread of this tick in our state.”

Asian longhorned ticks are light brown in color and tiny. Because of their small size and quick movement, they are difficult to detect. These ticks can feed on any animal but are most commonly found on livestock, dogs and humans.

While Dr. Nolan said the York County population is so far contained to the cattle farm where they were discovered, the ticks are treatable should they start showing up in yards.

“The good news is, this tick was very responsive to a variety of insecticides,” she said in a phone interview Friday. “So that means that if you do find any of these ticks in your yard, you can use the common sprays that are available at Lowe’s or other Home Depot-type stores.”

State health officials are asking residents to carefully submit ticks suspected to be Asian longhorned ticks for confirmatory identification.

“Collect a tick by using gloved hands, tweezers or another tool and send collected ticks, alive or dead, in a puncture-resistant sealable vial or zippered storage bag to Laboratory of Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases, 921 Assembly Street #417A Columbia, SC 29201,” A DHEC statement said.

Include your name and phone number and the address of where the tick was collected (if not a street address, provide directions and distances from nearby road intersections), and also include the date collected and whether the tick was found on a human or animal.

For additional information about Asian longhorned ticks, visit Clemson University’s South Carolina Ticks and Animal Health webpage. To more learn about tick-borne illnesses in South Carolina and the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health tick identification program, visit scdhec.gov/ticks.

Correction: The photograph above was originally mistakenly credited. Kyndall Braumuller of USC is the photographer.

Scott Morgan is the Upstate multimedia reporter for South Carolina Public Radio, based in Rock Hill. He cut his teeth as a newspaper reporter and editor in New Jersey before finding a home in public radio in Texas. Scott joined South Carolina Public Radio in March of 2019. His work has appeared in numerous national and regional publications as well as on NPR and MSNBC. He's won numerous state, regional, and national awards for his work including a national Edward R. Murrow.