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Massachusetts’ Newest Tick Threat – The Lone Star Tick!

By Chris Williams on June 28, 2016.

Just what we need, another tick that “vants to suck our blood!” The lone star tick is found mostly in the southeastern U.S. But as for many other pests, the range of this tick is gradually moving northward as winter temperatures moderate. The lone star tick, Amblyomma americanum, had been known to occur in Massachusetts, but it has been present in low numbers and has never caused any significant problems. Its numbers have increased dramatically in the past two years, however, according to local researchers. The abundance of white-tailed deer, which serve as a host, is another factor in its northward spread.

The Strange Tick Bite – Meat Allergy Connection

Why do we care? This tick doesn’t transmit Lyme disease, so that’s a good thing. It is capable of transmitting a number of other tick diseases such as ehrlichiosis, tularemia, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. It’s said that lone star ticks attack people more frequently than any other tick in the eastern and southeastern U.S. Lone star ticks are a problem for both people and dogs since their bite can cause fever, headache, nausea, weakness, and fatigue in both, a condition called granulocytic anaplasmosis. Veterinarians are on the lookout for problems from this tick.

Even more important though is the strange relationship between the bite of a lone star tick and the subsequent development of allergies to red meat and even cat dander. The proteins found in the tick’s saliva are similar to those found in red meat and some bite victims can develop a life-long and even life-threatening allergy to meat as a result of being bitten by the tick (see Tick Bites May Cause Red Meat Allergy).

This New Tick Has Attitude!

Lone star ticks are more aggressive than other ticks, they have a more painful bite that lasts, they move three to four times faster than other ticks, and they tend to stay in large groups. Fortunately, the female lone star tick is easily identified by the large white circle in the middle of her back that gives the tick its name. The male tick and the nymphs are brown and nondescript.

Many Massachusetts veterinarians say they have yet to see an attached lone star tick. Yet, at the Laboratory of Medical Zoology at UMass Amherst, they have been collecting ticks for 10 years. During that time they have collected only 81 lone star ticks, but 70 of those were collected since April 2014, indicating a change is coming. Lab Director Stephen Rich said “My suspicion is that we will see those numbers double or even triple in the next year.”

Photo Credit : CDC/ Michael L. Levin, Ph. D., Courtesy: Public Health Image Library

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