Editorial: A new threat in the ongoing tick battle

The clock is ticking.

As if the deer tick problem weren’t bad enough, two state departments — health and Agriculture & Markets — are now urging New Yorkers to be on the alert for the longhorned tick, a new species that may soon make its way here.

Native to eastern Asia, the tick was recently spotted in New York for the first time in Westchester County. Its first confirmed sighting in the United States came last fall, when it was found in New Jersey. It has since been spotted in other states across the country. Earlier this month, a 12-year-old girl in Bergen County, N.J., reportedly found a longhorned tick on her belly, although she wasn’t bitten and the tick did not carry a disease, according to a story published Tuesday by northjersey.com. She was believed to be the first person in the country to find a longhorned tick on their body. 

The threat of ticks and the myriad diseases they can transmit continues to present a public health challenge on the East End. Finding ways to control the tick population has been a local priority for years. The discovery of a new species of tick nearby should remind us that this threat isn’t likely to disappear any time soon.

The longhorned tick is a three-host tick, meaning it can reproduce either through male-female mating or through parthenogenesis, according to an article from Oklahoma State University’s entomology department. That allows it to potentially generate large populations in pastures or on animals in a short period of time, the article stated. The tick is associated with wildlife such as deer, which would raise concern that, given the vast local deer population, it could easily begin to spread if it were to reach the East End.

It’s still unclear yet whether this species transmits our area’s most common tick-borne diseases, such as Lyme disease. But it has been known to transmit diseases to humans in other parts of the world — and also to livestock, including horses, cattle and sheep, which may be the biggest risk at this point. So it appears only a matter of time until it can adapt to carry diseases here.

There is no shortage of diseases that can be transmitted by the ticks already present in our backyards: Powassan virus, babesiosis and ehrlichiosis, to name a few.

That threat remains, and with or without the addition of longhorned ticks, it’s up to us to remain vigilant, be aware of our surroundings and check ourselves carefully for ticks any time we’re outdoors in a wooded area.