Tick-Borne Diseases and Discovery of East Asian Tick in New Jersey: What You Should Know

East Asian Tick in New Jersey
East Asian Tick: Lyme Disease Association Photo

According to the Center for Disease Control, the prevention of tick-borne diseases should be on everyone’s mind, particularly during the seasons when ticks are most active. There is also wide-spread concern and confusion about the discovery of the East Asian Tick in New Jersey.

From May through July, New Jersey residents will get more tick bites and tick-borne diseases than any other time of year. It’s important to take careful steps to protect yourself and others from ticks during this season.

Powassan Virus

Cases of the Powassan virus, a very serious tick-borne disease, are actually quite rare in New Jersey, with very few cases reported over the past four years. In the state’s first case of Powassan virus, a Warren County, New Jersey woman died of encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain. It was later concluded that her death was due to Powassan. It is unknown whether an increase in diagnosis of Powassan reflect a spread of the virus within the local tick population, or is simply due to increased testing by doctors.

The Powassan virus is carried by the same tick that transmits Lyme disease. It is also carried by a second kind of tick, the woodchuck tick. In some instances Powassan causes meningitis or encephalitis and it proves to be fatal about 10 percent of the time. Approximately half of survivors retain permanent neurological symptoms, such as memory problems and headaches.

Lyme Disease and Outdoor Activities

Lyme Disease is an unfortunate hazard of outdoor recreation in North Jersey. People tend to spend more time walking in grassy, marshy, wooded areas in the spring, summer and fall months. This increases the chances of being bitten by a tick and possibly developing Lyme disease.

What You Should Know About Ticks and Lyme Disease

  1. Lyme disease is transferred to humans by bites from deer ticks, but other animals besides deer carry them, including birds and small rodents. The Board of Health recommends not placing bird feeders near your house because the animals they attract may carry deer ticks.
  2. When outside, walk on clear or paved surfaces. Wear long sleeves and pants when possible with light-colored fabric to make it easier to spot ticks. Also use insect repellents with DEET or permethrin.
  3. Use flea collars on your pets and brush them after they have been outside.
  4. If a tick bites you, remove it with tweezers by griping it as close to the skin as possible.
  5. Early symptoms of Lyme disease include a week or two of flu-like illness and sometimes a rash. If left untreated, further complications can occur, including heart, joint and nervous system problems.

East Asian Tick in New Jersey

The National Veterinary Services Laboratory (NVSL) in Ames, Iowa confirmed on November 9, 2017 the finding of an exotic East Asian Tick (Haemaphysalis longicornis), also known as the Longhorned Tick or bush tick, on a farm in Hunterdon County, NewJersey. Until that time, this tick was not known to exist in the United States.  How the East Asian Tick arrived in New Jersey remains a mystery. Steps were promptly taken to eradicate the tick from the index property and the animals in and around it. Tests on the exotic tick in November of 2017 failed to reveal any tickborne diseases.

On April 17, 2018 the NVSL confirmed the Longhorned/East Asian Tick successfully overwintered in New Jersey and has possibly become established in the state.

Local, state and federal animal health and wildlife officials, as well as Rutgers University – Center for Vector Biology are working together to eliminate this pest from the index premises and to contain its spread to the surrounding areas. Surveillance in wildlife and livestock species will continue throughout the year.

State and USDA employees will be working with the public to determine if the East Asian Tick in New Jersey has spread to new areas and to educate the public about protecting livestock and pets from this pest. Questionnaires will be distributed to property owners within a 3-kilometer radius of the index property to gather pertinent information vital to the investigation.

Like deer ticks, the nymphs of the Longhorned Tick are very small (resembling tiny spiders) and can easily go unnoticed on animals and people. This tick is known to infest deer and a wide range of other hosts. Therefore, it has the potential to infect multiple North American wildlife species.

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Unusual ticks detected in wildlife should be immediately reported to the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife, Bureau of Wildlife Management at 908-637-4173 ext. 120.

If you have any questions about tick-borne illness in humans or the East Asian Tick in New Jersey, contact your local health department at http://localhealth.nj.gov or the New Jersey Department of Health at 609-826-5964.

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