Doctors say the new tick remains a 'nuisance' — but has the potential to spread pathogens

Korin Miller
Scientists are raising concerns about the newly discovered Asian long-horned tick, which is reportedly spreading along the East Coast. (Photo: New York State Department of Health)

Ticks in the United States are pretty scary. Among other things, they can carry Lyme disease, cause a rash that spreads over your body, and make you allergic to meat. And now there’s a new tick to have on your radar.

It’s called the Asian long-horned tick, and it’s the first new tick species to arrive in the U.S. in 50 years, according to the New York Times. It’s also quickly spreading up and across the East Coast. The tick has been spotted in New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, and Arkansas so far.

The tick originated in East Asia, where it’s been known to carry pathogens related to Lyme disease, as well as a virus that causes severe fever with thrombocytopenia syndrome (SFTS), a serious disease that can cause multiple organ failure and is fatal in about 15 percent of cases, infectious disease expert Amesh A. Adalja, MD, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, tells Yahoo Lifestyle.

More intense facts about this tick: Females don’t need males to reproduce and can create a colony on their own, and these ticks can survive U.S. winters, making them a potential threat all year, Adalja says. It’s important to point out that the Asian long-horned ticks that have been found in the United States have been tested for a range of diseases and have not been found to carry anything right now, Adalja says. That doesn’t mean the ticks won’t in the future, though.

“At the moment, it appears to be more of a nuisance, but its potential for spreading pathogens in the U.S. is still unknown,” William Schaffner, MD, an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. While the ticks seem to be relatively disease-free at the moment, it’s possible for one to bite an animal infected with a disease like Lyme disease or Powassan virus and spread that disease to other ticks, which can then infect humans.

To lower the odds that you’ll be bitten by any kind of tick, it’s important to wear long sleeves and long pants tucked into your socks when you go into areas where there might be ticks, like the woods or a brushy area, Adalja says. It’s also a good idea to spray tick repellent onto your clothing, Schaffner says. And when you go inside after being outdoors, shower and inspect your body thoroughly for ticks — you can also recruit a partner to check your back, Schaffner says.

Ultimately, you shouldn’t panic about the Asian long-horned tick, but it’s important to know that they exist and be mindful of them. “They will have to be studied in-depth to determine whether or not this tick does acquire the ability to transmit pathogens we’re concerned about,” Adalja says. “But they’re known to transmit pathogens in Asia.”

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