Health experts warn South Carolinians after invasive, ‘aggressive’ tick species found in state

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Published: Jul. 11, 2022 at 6:53 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Thousands of ticks of an invasive species that can kill animals and make humans severely ill were recently found on a South Carolina farm, and the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control is now asking for the public’s help to find out if they’re in other parts of the state.

Asian longhorned ticks have been identified in nearly 20 different states, and while they have been discovered in South Carolina in recent years, health experts said a recent infestation on a cattle farm pasture in York Country is the first time they have found so many of them in one place in the state.

“So, the risk is there,” Dr. Melissa Nolan, director of the University of South Carolina Laboratory of Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases and assistant professor of epidemiology at UofSC’s Arnold School of Public Health, said during a virtual media briefing Monday. “What this ends up being, we’re not quite sure, but a situation, again, we want to closely monitor.”

Smaller numbers of these ticks were found in 2020 on dogs at shelters in Pickens and Lancaster counties before the York infestation was identified last month.

While those counties are closer to North Carolina, Asian longhorned ticks have also been discovered in Georgia recently, so health officials said they could be present but not yet identified in more parts of South Carolina.

Researchers said a single female tick can produce thousands of eggs without mating.

“The concern really is that this tick could overwhelm livestock or dogs or people, so you could be out walking in the field with your dog, and you could get hundreds of ticks that bite on you. They’re very aggressive feeders,” Nolan said.

These insects can transmit more than 30 diseases to humans and animals, make humans severely ill, and even kill animals.

While state health leaders said these ticks haven’t gotten any humans sick in the US so far, they should still take precautions, like using EPA-registered insect repellants before going outdoors, wearing protective clothing tucked in at the waists and ankle to prevent bites, and checking themselves and their family for ticks after they have been outdoors.

State Veterinarian Dr. Michael Neault, who also serves as the director of Clemson University’s Livestock Poultry Health Department, said standard tick prevention for pets appears to be effective against this species.

“If you’re anywhere near any brushy areas, if there’s wood or anything else like that, just go ahead and check the animals over as well as yourselves,” Neault said, adding owners should contact their veterinarian if they find ticks on their pets.

If people find an insect, they suspect to be an Asian longhorned tick, they can send it to a laboratory to determine its species and if it carries disease.

They are asked to put the tick, dead or alive, sealed in a zippered storage bag or a vial, and include their name and contact information, where and when the tick was found, and if it was found on a human or animal, along with the type of animal.

It can then be sent to: Laboratory of Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases, 921 Assembly Street #417A, Columbia, SC 29201

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