Last summer, in a city just outside New York City, a check mark should be a man.
That should not sound extraordinary. Ticks are normal on the upper east coast; Finally, tick-borne Lyme disease was first identified next door in Connecticut. But the tick, which secretly pushed its pointed, barbed mouthpieces into an unfortunate 66-year-old Yonkers resident, was something new. It was the first invasive tick in the US for 50 years, and this was the first time she had bitten a human.
Maryn McKenna ( @marynmck ) is a source of ideas for WIRED. Senior Fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University and author of Big Chicken. This bite did not make the victim sick. But the fact that it actually happened makes scientists realize how little they know about the insect known as the Asian Longhorn Tail: which diseases it transmits, where it likes to live, and how it manages to stretch over long distances move. Behind these unanswered questions lies a bigger problem: we did not pay as much attention to ticks as to other insects transmitting diseases. We still have a long way to go to catch up ̵
Until recently, eastern China and Russia, Japan, Australia, and New were the ancestral home of the Asian longhorn zealand, Zealand, and some Pacific islands. In these countries, there are a number of bacterial and viral diseases that affect humans, including a potentially fatal hemorrhagic fever. It is all the more dreaded as it attacks farm animals. This tick reproduces asexually, laying thousands of eggs at once and producing waves of offspring that extract so much blood that the adult cattle become weak and the calves die.
In August 2017, a woman held a single sheep on a property in the northwestern corner of New Jersey, in the midst of a neighborhood of large houses and large lawns, went to the health department of Hunterdon County to complain that she had ticks found on the animal. What she did not notice until horrified clerks told her was that she also had ticks, more than 1,000 stained-size larvae on her clothes.
The investigators gave the woman a spare set of pants and went back to her house with her – where her boots were immediately covered with crawling larvae, many times more than would be usual on a plot of this size. They found hundreds of ticks sucking on the ears and under the fur of their poor sheep.
An insecticide bath cleared the sheep's bugs, and a heavy frost in November eliminated those in the paddock. By that time, Rutgers University researchers had determined that it was the long-horned tick that was spotted for the first time in front of a quarantine station (where they were twice removed from animals sent to the US in the 1960s). They had no idea where it had come from, but they wondered: how long had the ticks been here since the paddock was so populated? Was it long enough for you to move?
Apparently yes. The CDC said last Wednesday that the exotic tick has now been found in 11 states. One of them is New York, where the Yonkers man lives, about 130 kilometers from this infested paddock. He did not travel much at the time of the bite: he had not been outside Westchester County for a month. He was not that outside.
But when the investigators inspected the man's house, they found ticks and tick larvae everywhere. It was also disturbing that they found ticks that, according to current scientific evidence, should not be ticks: they rested in full sunlight in the middle of a well-tended lawn rather than in shaggy, shady tall grass.
The foreign tick had arrived without explanation. moved without notice, flourished in areas where it was unsuccessful – and now posed a potential threat to human health.
The exotic Asian longhorn tick has now been found in 11 states.
"I'm alarmed," says Bobbi Pritt, a physician and pathologist at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, who authored a medical journal commentary that responds to the news of the bite published in a medical journal last month. "Although I'm not surprised, we knew this tick was here, we knew it could bite people because of its behavior in other countries, which raises many more questions."
The problem is finding answers It is a truism among tick researchers that their work is underfunded compared to other insect vectors, as the US health care system was based on mosquito control: the first local health department, set up in Philadelphia in 1794, went out the year before The CDC itself stems from a World War II program launched to combat malaria in the south, which had affected war preparations, disabled soldiers, and equipment decommissioning.  To this day, the CDC carries national maps of the areas of various different mosquito species. States, counties, and cities run more than 700 mosquito-fighting counties, and the American Mosquito Control Association estimates that these authorities spend $ 200 million a year bugging, analyzing, and killing the bugs. Ticks do not come close to such coordinated attention or money. The Entomological Society of America warned four years ago that the US needs comprehensive anti-tick strategies, but only a few states, such as New York in 2018 and Connecticut this year, have even developed tick monitoring and control programs.
There are good reasons for this: ticks and the diseases they transmit – not just Lyme disease, but also babiesiosis, erlichiosis, anaplasmosis and others – are a major public health problem. Last year, the CDC reported that the number of insect-borne illnesses tripled between 2004 and 2016. Three quarters of these cases were caused by ticks. During the period of this study, the CDC identified seven diseases that are transmitted to humans, some of which are fatal and that are either brand new or new in the US.
If these diseases are diagnosed in humans, the CDC demands they must be reported to the agency so that the data can be summarized and assigned. But tick researchers such as Rick Ostfeld, a disease ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in New York, have said for years that routine tick-picking and tapping of ticks themselves, as practiced by mosquito control agencies, is most needed to figure out which ones Species hatch and what diseases they can carry.
Currently, according to Ostfeld, the tick control is guided by the interests of academic scientists. "It's a lot of patchwork," he says. "They usually find ticks in the study pages of those looking for them, but this leaves much of the country completely unstudied."
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] Ben Beard, a medical entomologist who is deputy director of the CDC's vectored diseases department ("vector" is an abbreviation for "insects that transmit disease when they bite"), says that this is gradually changing. "We have funded state health departments to make efforts to monitor ticks," he says.
The main source is a CDC program entitled "Funding of Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacities," which annually sends about $ 200 million to all 50 state health departments; $ 16 million of this is attributable to all insect-borne diseases. Until recently, the funds were tied to specific projects, but this year the CDC agreed to give states more leeway in using the money. The result will be a map of the ticks and the pathogens they contain by state and possibly federal state that the CDC wants to publish once a year.
Beard said it is not possible to tell at this time how many jurisdictions there are. You can focus on ticks or decide how much of that $ 16 million will be spent on tracking those ticks. So the surveillance image should have gaps, but "over time it should turn patchwork into a more systematic and complete one." Insects, including ticks.)
However, this is a start – given the speed with which ticks are emerging and tick-borne diseases, it probably does not seem to be enough. Investments in tick biology and ecology as well as studies on how ticks get into new territory and what they entail are necessary.
CDC data are limited and show that ticks are ahead of us. It is past time that we have tried to catch up.