Dec. 5 2018 12:00 AM

Experts are worried about the ticks’ potential to spread disease.

Asian longhorned tick
Eric R. Day, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Bugwood.org

Disease-carrying ticks are always an occupational hazard for landscapers, and now, we have a new species to worry about: the Asian longhorned tick, according to a press release from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

The invasive arthropod whose scientific name is Haemaphysalis longicornis has been discovered in several U.S. states since its first discovery in 2017. The CDC is working with public health, agricultural, and academic experts to understand the possible threat posed by it.

“The full public health and agricultural impact of this tick discovery and spread is unknown,” said Ben Beard, Ph.D., deputy director of CDC’s Division of Vector-Borne Diseases. “In other parts of the world, the Asian longhorned tick can transmit many types of pathogens common in the United States. We are concerned that this tick, which can cause massive infestations on animals, on people, and in the environment, is spreading in the United States.”

Since the tick was first found on a New Jersey sheep in August 2017, 45 counties or county equivalents in New Jersey and eight other states, including Arkansas, Connecticut, Maryland, North Carolina, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia, have reported finding it on a variety of hosts, including people, wildlife, domestic animals and in environmental samples.

Part of the concern stems from its impressive reproductive capacity. Unlike most tick species, a single female Asian longhorned tick can lay 1,000 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 the environment.

There is cause for alarm, because Asian longhorned ticks have the potential to spread human diseases that are endemic to the United States, including Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and several rickets-like diseases that cause flu-like symptoms.

To prevent tick bites, the CDC advises using U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-registered tick repellents such as DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, para-menthane-diol or 2-undecanone. If you own a landscape company or supervise landscape workers in an area known to have ticks, make sure you have plenty of tick repellent available and make sure everyone uses it.

Clothing, gear and boots should be protected with products containing 0.5 percent permethrin; it will remain protective through several washings. You can also buy pretreated clothing and gear.

Ticks are tiny, no bigger than a poppy seed. Workers should frequently check their bodies and clothing for ticks upon return from potentially tick-infested areas, which includes yards. Use a handheld or full-length mirror to view all parts of the body. It’s a good idea to place clothes in a dryer on high heat for at least 10 minutes after work every day to kill any ticks that might be there.

It’s advisable to shower soon after being outdoors. Showering within two hours of coming indoors has been shown to reduce the risk of getting Lyme disease and may be effective in reducing the risk of other tickborne diseases. Showering helps wash off unattached ticks and is also a good time to do a tick check.