By G. Anthonie Riis
Special to GUIDON
Native ticks and the burgeoning bacteria, viruses and parasites they spread through their bites have been a growing problem in the United States.
Now, an invasive tick is adding to the alarm.
According to the Department of Defense’s Armed Forces Pest Management Board, the invader, known as the East Asian tick, was first identified in 2017 and has been thriving in several states. Also known as the Asian longhorned tick, of special concern is its ability to mass reproduce.
According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention article, titled “Asian Longhorned Tick Spreading Widely in U.S.,” “a single female can reproduce offspring up to 2,000 eggs at a time without mating. As a result, hundreds to thousands of ticks can be found on a single animal, person or in an environment.”
The pest management board has recommended that Army installations where ticks and tick-borne diseases are prevalent conduct tick surveillance programs to locate ticks and discover if they’re spreading diseases.
Andrew Dickson, an anthropologist with the Bluegrass Army Depot’s Environmental and Land Management office, said the first survey found that different ticks are coming to Kentucky, but that the Asian variety has not yet been found.
“We did a tick and blood collection from our deer harvest, and we sent the ticks to a lab to find out what kind they were — to see if they were male or female and to check for invasive species,” Dickson said. “(The surveillance) did record the first Gulf Coast tick in the area, but we have yet to record the Asian longhorned tick.”
Dickson said he is still concerned.
“It sounds as if Kentucky would be a good environment if the tick has spread to West Virginia and Arkansas [two states with reported Asian tick finds],” Dickson said. “We’re right in the middle of that.”
Dickson sees the biggest threat being to animals, which are largely defenseless against ticks.
“Most of our workers have DEET readily available to them, and we advise them to use it if they’re in the tall grass or woods — and they do,” Dickson said. “It would have the greatest effect on our animals. A tick that could mass produce would absolutely be something we’d be concerned about — especially if they carried diseases. We have a good concentration of deer and turkey here, and we have cattle on the installation, as well. That could hurt our populations if this were to become a problem.”
While the surveillance didn’t reveal the Asian longhorned tick, the information collected could determine what diseases ticks in the area might carry.
“After screening for ticks at Fort Knox, Blue Grass Army Depot and Crane Naval Support Activity, we determined that there is a large population at all three installations, with over 1,300 ticks collected at Fort Knox in one day,” said Lt. Col. Krystal Bean, commander of Fort Knox’s Public Health Activity. “We are screening collected ticks of all species for other diseases like Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and we did find some prevalence of zoonotic disease organisms at all locations. (This helps) determine the risk level to the populations served by these installations.”
Knowing the diseases that ticks can transmit allows residents to avoid them, repel them or safely get rid of them.
“Any tick bite could spread disease,” Bean said. “Wear light colored clothing that ticks can be easily seen on with pants tucked into boots.”
She offered additional advice to combat the tick threat.
“Check your body and clothing for ticks upon return from tick-infested areas, and shower as soon as possible to wash off any unattached ticks,” she said.
(Editor’s note: Riis is with Fort Knox News in Fort Knox, Kentucky.)