Meghan Hermance, Ph.D., assistant professor of microbiology and immunology at the USA College of Medicine, was awarded a $423,500 grant to evaluate the ability of the Asian longhorned tick to maintain and transmit diseases typically found in North America.
By Casandra Andrews
A menacing new tick that can reproduce by the thousands without a partner is feeding its way through livestock and other animals in the United States. Scientists at the University of South Alabama have been studying the sesame seed-sized pest for months, seeking to determine its ultimate threat to humans and animals.
Discovered in North America just four years ago, the invasive Asian longhorned tick is unlike other parasites found in wooded areas and farms. It’s smaller (and much harder to spot) than most ticks. A single female can produce as many as 2,000 fertile eggs at a time, the CDC warns, eliminating the need for a mate.
Meghan Hermance, Ph.D., assistant professor of microbiology and immunology at the USA College of Medicine, was awarded a two-year grant totaling $423,500 from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to evaluate the ability of the Asian longhorned tick to maintain and transmit diseases typically found in the United States and Canada.
“It is important that we conduct these studies so we understand the public health threat this invasive tick species poses,” Hermance said. “If the longhorned tick can transmit native viruses, it will be essential to take a multifaceted approach to disease prevention, including enhanced tick surveillance, efforts to raise public and clinician awareness, and developing effective tick control measures.”
In 2017, the tick was discovered as an invasive pest in the United States, representing a new and emerging disease threat because it may be capable of transmitting North American tick-borne viruses, such as Heartland virus and Deer tick virus, which are closely related to the viruses this tick is known to transmit in Asia.
“This tick is an aggressive biter that feeds on a variety of hosts, and is capable of adapting to a variety of climates,” she said. “It’s possible that increased human cases will result.”
As of August 2021, the longhorned ticks have been found in at least 16 states: Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.
Infestations of the longhorned ticks have led to agricultural threats in other parts of the world, making animals such as cows anemic and lowering milk production.
“We need to know what the public health threat is,” Hermance said. “I think it’s only a matter of time before we see this tick in the Southeast.”