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Ticks on March Across United States

Posted: June 21, 2013, 6:15 p.m. EDT


By Ken Niedziela

Ticks, the tiny parasites that bedevil and sicken pets and people alike, are spreading like zombies.

Predictions of a busy tick season have come true, specialists and pet owners agree. Like the walking dead in the new Brad Pitt movie "World War Z,” ticks are showing up in the unlikeliest of places.

One predator is the lone star tick, which Michael Dryden, DVM, Ph.D., reported this week has established viable populations as far north as New York and Ontario, Canada, and as far west as Iowa and Nebraska. The pest is traditionally found in southeastern and south-central states such as Texas, Missouri, Georgia and Florida.

 Lone star tick
The lone star tick (Amblyomma americanum) is a common species in North America.
"Lone star ticks become more and more widespread every year as they continue to infiltrate states where they have never before been present,” said Dr. Dryden, a distinguished professor of veterinary parasitology at the Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine.

The arachnid, known for a white, star-like spot on the female’s back, is an aggressive biter. It can transmit cytauxzoonosis to cats and ehrlichiosis and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever to people and dogs.

"It’s one of the most common ticks that people find on themselves and their dogs, so everyone should take precautions, especially in the new areas of invasion,” said Michael J. Yabsley, MS, Ph.D., an associate professor at the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine.

Lone star ticks began expanding their range about 25 years ago, Dryden and Yabsley said. The reasons are complex but include milder winters, people moving closer to woodlands and wildlife areas, and the proliferation of tick hosts such as white-tailed deer and wild turkeys, the parasitologists reported.

Ticks lie dormant in the winter and go on a feeding frenzy in the spring and summer.

"By the time you notice ticks on dogs, it’s often too late,” Dryden said. "All it takes is one bite.”

Pet owners have noticed the boom in tick populations.

"This is the first year we have seen ticks in central Indiana on both dogs and humans from our mowed yard,” an Indianapolis resident wrote on VeterinaryPracticeNews.com.

"I’ve already seen the devastation [of] the ticks here,” stated a woman in Latrobe, Pa. "Our poor dogs [are] just going out in the grass and bringing in not one or two but three or more at a time.”

"Never seen so many ticks before in northeast Alabama,” added a pet owner in Gadsden. "We honestly don’t know what to do.”

The invasion was correctly forecast in late April, when the Companion Animal Parasite Council warned that Lyme disease posed a higher than normal threat this year. The Bel Air, Md., organization reported that Lyme disease cases were expected to jump along the Oregon and Washington state coastlines and in the Great Lakes region, New England and the Mid-Atlantic states.

Lyme disease is one illness not linked to the lone star tick. The disease is transmitted by the blacklegged tick in the northeastern United States and upper Midwest and by the Western blacklegged tick along the Pacific coast.

Pet owners are urged to take precautions with outdoor dogs and cats and ask their veterinarian to screen for tick-borne diseases, which often may be treated with antibiotics.

The Companion Animal Parasite Council offers customizable online maps that track the prevalence of tick-borne diseases, intestinal parasites and heartworm at the state and county levels. The Parasite Prevalence Maps are available at PetsAndParasites.org/parasite-prevalence-maps.

As a service to dog and cat owners, the organization also issues regular email updates and alerts. Registration is available at PetsAndParasites.org.

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