Three tone silhouette of a lone star tick with the title "The Lone Star Tick is Invading the Northeast"

What You Should Know

The lone star tick, Amblyomma americanum, was once all but relegated to the southern part of the U.S. In particular, they were commonly found along the gulf coast, northward into Oklahoma. Currently however, studies are showing lone star ticks invading the Northeast. The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station (CAES) found, in a December 2019 release, that the lone star tick has had a 58% increase in the past decade as opposed to the previous. CAES stated,

Previously limited to the southeastern U.S., the lone star ticks have been detected from areas in the northeastern US with no previous record of activity including Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island, and established populations have now been documented across most of southern New Jersey, Long Island, Fairfield and New Haven Counties in Connecticut, coastal Rhode Island, and on Cape Cod and the Islands.

Lone Star Tick Press Release, CASE, December 6, 2019
CDC Image of Female Lone Star Tick

The Female Lone Star Tick is easily recognizable due to the white spot on its back. The male as well as other stages are recognizable from their more rounded shape than other species. The nymphs and the adult female are extremely aggressive biters, which makes them a particular problem due to the disease-causing organisms they spread. The CDC lists these as:

  • Ehrlichia chaffeensis and E. ewingii (human ehrlichiosis) 
  • Francisella tularensis (tularemia)
  • Heartland virus
  • Bourbon virus
  • Southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI)
Tickborne Disease Reports to CDC in 2016

One disease of concern is ehrlichiosis, a group of diseases, that is spread mainly through tick bites. Symptoms include fever, muscle aches, and more. Typically it is treated with Doxycycline and left untreated is potentially fatal due to complications. The CDC defines the most-at-risk groups for contracting ehrlichiosis are men, people between 60 and 69 years of age, and immunocompromised individuals.

The graph below shows how the number of reported cases of ehrlichiosis to the CDC has been drastically increasing. In 2000, there were 200 reported cases, while in 2017 there were over 1600 reports.

U.S. ehrlichiosis caused by Ehrlichia chaffeensis cases reported to CDC, 2000-2017

The New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, which is part of Rutgers, discusses how the management of ticks by businesses and homeowners is important to help mitigate the spread of the lone star tick.

A general integrated tick management approach applicable to private yards includes (1) landscaping to make yards inhospitable to ticks, (2) preventing proliferation of mice and deer, and (3) application of synthetic or plant-derived acaricides. Common landscape management techniques recommended for tick control include keeping grass mowed, removing leaves and brush, deer exclusion, and installation of a wood chip barrier between lawn and woods. However, these methods have yet to be formally tested against lone star ticks.

Lone Star Ticks in New Jersey, NJAES, February 2018

The spread of the lone star and other species of ticks is important to all of us because of the pathogens that cause human disease they carry. The CDC and other health organizations consider ticks an increasing threat to the population due to new tickborne diseases still being identified. There is even a new species of tick to the United States that was first seen in 2017. Reports of cases are on the rise and the geographic range of the various species is expanding. The time to act is now before it becomes a bigger issue.

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