Lone Star Tick: Another tick expands its range

Reddish brown lone star ticks are starting to head north.

Reddish brown lone star ticks are starting to head north.

You might call lone star ticks the new tick on the block, and there’s good news and bad news about them.

The good news, according to Dr. Kirby Stafford III, head of entomology at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, is that lone star ticks are not established in Connecticut. The bad news is, of the 75 or so lone star specimens sent to the station’s tick lab each year, most have come from Fairfield County. Originally from the southeast, the ticks have moved north.

“They have been well established on Long Island since 1990, and they are becoming established on the Cape,” he said. “They slowly seem to be making progress.”

He added the agricultural station has not picked up any lone star ticks in its studies in this area.

Stafford surmised the ticks found here were carried in by birds from Long Island or perhaps Maine, where they are also established. They could also be carried in by people visiting Long Island or New Jersey.

Even though people may encounter them here or there, “there is not an established population in the state,” he reiterated. They are, however, expanding their range.

Lone star ticks are reddish brown and 3 to 4 mm long. They are rounder than the black-legged tick and their bite can be painful and cause significant irritation because of long mouthparts.

These ticks do not carry Lyme disease, but they are associated with ehrlichiosis and they may cause people bitten by them to develop an allergy to red meat — beef, pork, lamb, and venison.

“The nuisance level is much higher than the black-legged tick,” which is commonly known as the deer tick, Stafford said. “It is aggressive and very abundant. It is a huge nuisance tick.”

Major ticks

The ticks to be most concerned about in this area continue to be the black-legged tick and the American dog tick, also called the wood tick.

“This year there has been a huge amount of adult tick activity because of the mild winter,” he said.

“Now we are entering the season for nymphal ticks, which is when most cases of Lyme disease occur,” Stafford said. “This year there is also a greater than normal American dog tick activity, which has boosted the overall feeling of ticks,” he added.

Lyme disease, carried by the black-legged tick, is the most prevalent tick borne disease in Connecticut. According to the state Department of Public Health, there were 1,752 cases in Connecticut last year — including confirmed and probable cases. Of those, Fairfield County had the second-highest number of cases — 310 — second only to New Haven County with 353.

There are no firm figures for babesiosis or anaplasmosis, which Stafford estimated to be in the hundreds of cases.

Powassan virus is still relatively rare, he said. There are two strains of this virus. One is carried by a tick that predominantly bites woodchucks, although humans have occasionally been bitten.

A slightly different strain of the virus is carried by the black-legged tick. “We are starting to see more cases of it, but there has been only one proven case in Connecticut,” he said.

A Tick Management Handbook written by Stafford, with information for homeowners and public health officials, may be viewed online at bit.ly/2qU84Jb.

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