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Pennsylvanians urged to be on the lookout for new, invasive tick species

HARRISBURG — State agriculture officials are urging livestock and pet owners to practice good tick-prevention habits with their animals after an invasive species of the parasite was discovered in Centre County.

The Asian longhorn tick, Haemaphysalis longicornis, was discovered on a wild deer recently. The species is known to congregate in large numbers and can cause anemia in livestock and pets. It is known to carry several diseases that infect hogs and cattle in Asia, but so far, none of the ticks found in the U.S. have been found to carry any infectious pathogens, according to state officials.

The longhorn tick’s distinctive characteristic, its “horns,” may not be visible without a microscope, so the species is easily confused with other tick species — including the rabbit tick, which is common in the Eastern United States.

The Asian longhorn tick infests host animals in large clusters of numerous ticks. The females reproduce asexually, so a single tick can lay up to 2,000 eggs after feeding on a host. Livestock, pets, small mammals, birds and humans are all potential hosts, experts say.

“Even experts have difficulty distinguishing among tick species, so it is important to take precautions to protect pets, livestock and family members from becoming a host for ticks of any kind,” State Veterinarian Dr. David Wolfgang said in a press release. “Scientists don’t yet know how this species will adapt to the North American climate and animal hosts, but we know it survived New Jersey’s winter and has infested sheep and cattle in this region.”

“The discovery of the longhorn tick is another reminder of the importance of tick prevention for Pennsylvanians,” Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said. “Ticks can be found in your own backyard, so it is essential to wear long sleeves and pants, use insect repellant containing DEET to help keep you safe from ticks and the diseases they carry. It is also important to check yourself and your pets for ticks, as pets can bring ticks indoors.”

Native to East and Central Asia, the tick was originally identified in the U.S. in New Jersey, where it was found in large numbers in sheep in Mercer County in 2017. It has also been found in Arkansas, New Jersey, New York, West Virginia and Virginia.

Wolfgang recommends examining animals on a regular basis, and checking for ticks after being outside to prevent tick bites and disease transmission. Livestock producers and pet owners should consult their veterinarians to develop tick prevention and control appropriate to their specific animals.

To reduce tick habitat, maintain a nine-foot distance between lawn or pasture and wooded areas, keep grass height low, and remove weeds and brush bordering wooded areas.