This year’s nasty gnat swarms are getting lots of buzz as Minnesotans head out to enjoy warmer temperatures. Unfortunately, there’s more bad news about buggy blood-drinkers. An eight-legged invader, one that’s a member of the tick family, is making headlines in medical publications due to its relatively swift spread, its unusual affinity for manicured lawns, its reputation as an “aggressive biter,” and its potential to spread disease.
The Asian long-horned tick has not been reported in Minnesota, but the public needs to enlist in efforts to spot it and keep it contained. The state Department of Health and the Board of Animal Health are closely tracking the tick’s spread after it was first detected in the United States in 2017 on a New Jersey sheep. But the agency’s world-class scientists could use a helping hand.
Minnesota farmers are on the surveillance front lines because livestock transports are among the ways that this tick could hitch a ride here. So are hikers, hunters and others who spend time outdoors. Same for medical providers, who may be asked to remove ticks. The Health Department has long requested that these groups and anyone else contact its tick-monitoring specialists if an unusual-looking tick is found. That call takes on heightened importance with the Asian long-horned tick now confirmed in 11 states.
The agency has a tick submission form on its website — tinyurl.com/y2638jel. After filling it out, concerned citizens are asked to mail in the tick specimen. The agency will then identify the tick.
The name of this invasive species signals its geographic origin. It is endemic to eastern China, Russia, Korea and Japan and has been introduced to Australia, New Zealand and some Pacific islands. States where it has been found beyond New Jersey include Arkansas, Connecticut, Kentucky, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and, most recently, Tennessee. Those banking on our state’s notoriously cold winters to keep the pests at bay shouldn’t. A study modeling the tick’s potential spread across North America includes parts of Minnesota.
Late last month, a Mayo Clinic physician writing in the Clinical Infectious Diseases journal sounded the alarm after researchers documented the first human bite by this tick in the U.S. (a 66-year-old man in Yonkers, N.Y.). Like the dog and blacklegged (deer) ticks that Minnesotans are well familiar with, this new tick could harbor germs that cause serious illness in people.
“It is clear that this is invasive species is here to stay for the foreseeable future,’’ Mayo’s Dr. Bobbi S. Pritt wrote in the journal article. Pritt also called for public awareness campaigns about the tick’s spread and the risk for human contact in areas such as sunlit, closely mowed lawns vs. the shadier, brushy habitat that blacklegged ticks prefer. Pritt noted another feature: The female Asian long-horned tick doesn’t need a male to reproduce, with this leading to “massive infestations of a single host.’’
Health Department tick expert David Neitzel notes that peak season for tickborne illness is mid-May to mid-July in Minnesota. Tick precautions, including repellent, frequent tick checks and prompt removal, are vital to guard against ticks already in Minnesota — and any new species that may be on the way.