In case you missed this story last month, bush ticks have been found in Arkansas, and they were positively identified by Dr. Susan Little at Oklahoma State University. Bush ticks are not native to the United States. They are actually an East Asian tick that is native to Russia, China, Japan, and Korea. They have also been reported in Australia, New Zealand, and several islands in the Pacific. The tick’s scientific name is Haemaphysalis longicornis. The tick is dark brown in color, and it is about the size of a pea when fully engorged with blood. The immature stages are extremely small and difficult to see with the naked eye.
The ticks were first found in New Jersey in October 2017. They have been found on animals presenting for entry at US ports, but this was the first time that the ticks were found on animals INSIDE the US. These bush ticks were found on a ewe (female sheep) in Hunterdon County when her owner was shearing her wool. Most of them were on the ewe’s face and ears, but engorged ticks were found all over her body. The owner’s arms were absolutely covered with ticks. When officials came to the farm to investigate, there were thousands of ticks in the one-acre sheep pen. EWWW!
Bush ticks have been found on an orphaned beef calf in Abermarle County, Virginia. No known link has been found between the sheep farm in New Jersey and the beef farm in Virginia. These ticks have also been found in West Virginia.
Here is the really scary part of bush ticks – they can multiply by basically cloning themselves rather than needing both males and females to reproduce. This allows them to multiply really rapidly. Again, EWWW!
Bush ticks carry SFTS (severe fever with thrombocytopenia syndrome) in China. This disease causes people to develop a fever and a low platelet count, which causes bleeding. They can also develop GI signs, low white blood cell counts, and elevated liver enzymes. Up to 30% of people who contract this disease die. Not a good disease, although it usually isn’t a good disease if it carries “severe” in the name. In July 2017, in a rare case, a woman in Japan died after helping a cat who had been infected with SFTS. More information on the case can be found here.
Bush ticks have been associated with Rickettsia japonica, which causes Japanese spotted fever. In Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific islands, bush ticks have been associated with theileriosis in cattle. This disease causes severe anemia and possible death.
We don’t know if bush ticks found here in the US are transmitting disease, but Dr. Little’s group at OSU is working to see if they are transmitting diseases.
As far as we know, the tick preventive products that we currently use in Oklahoma should kill these ticks, too. If you find any unusual ticks on you or your pets, you can submit them to Oklahoma Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory (OADDL) at Oklahoma State University. Instructions on how to submit the ticks can be found on showusyourticks.org.
In closing, ticks are nasty little buggers. We have had a wet spring, and they are thriving this year. PLEASE use a good flea/tick preventive on your dogs and cats, and please use heartworm preventive as well. It is much easier to prevent disease than to treat!