CONNECTICUT — An aggressive human-biting tick has invaded Connecticut, and it has the potential for altering the dynamics of a host of existing and emerging tick-borne diseases in the state and throughout the Northeast.
Those are the findings from the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station (CAES), reporting on the rapid range expansion and established populations of the lone star tick, Amblyomma americanum, in Fairfield and New Haven Counties.
Previously limited to the southeastern U.S., the lone star ticks have been detected in areas of the
northeastern U.S. with no previous record of activity including Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island. Established populations of this tick species 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.
According to Goudarz Molaei, a research scientist who also directs the CAES Tick Surveillance and Testing Program, the number of lone star ticks submitted to the CAES Tick Testing Laboratory increased by 58 percent from the period of 1996-2006 to 2007-2017, mainly from Fairfield County. Established populations of lone star ticks were discovered in Fairfield and New Haven Counties in 2018 and 2019, respectively, and further establishment in New Haven County was documented on June 17, 2020.
Twenty years ago, 0.2 percent of Connecticut's tick population were of the lone star variety, Molaei told Patch. Now, we're at 3.2 percent, and most of the influx is coming from Fairfield County, and, as of only recently, New Haven County. The fact that the lion's share of the dreaded lone star ticks are coming primarily from just those two areas is worrisome to Molaei and his team. CAES is busy formulating an ambitious plan to eradicate the species from an infestation hot spot in the Norwalk Islands.
That full-court-press is coming not a moment too soon. The tick infestation that began in Fairfield "has moved almost all the way to Stratford," Molaei said. "Residents there are calling me on a daily basis, and they are saying 'we are surrounded in our own house, we cannot even step out!'"
As an aggressive human biter with highly irritating bites, the lone star tick has been associated with several human diseases and medical conditions, including tularemia, ehrlichiosis, rickettsiosis, Heartland virus disease, southern tick-associated rash illness, red meat allergy and likely the newly identified Bourbon virus disease.
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"Rising global temperatures, ecologic changes, reforestation, and increases in commerce and travel are important underlying factors influencing the rate and extent of range expansion for ticks and associated disease-causing pathogens. It is anticipated that warming temperatures associated with climate change may lead to the continued geographic range expansion and abundance of the lone star tick, increasing its importance as an emerging threat to humans, domesticated animals and wildlife," Molaei said.
Depending upon the annual weather condition, adult lone star ticks are usually active from mid-March to late June, nymphs from mid-May to late July and larvae from July to September. It is important that the public and practitioners develop a heightened awareness of the health risks associated with emergent tick vectors such as the lone star tick and their potential for changing the dynamics of tick-borne diseases in Connecticut and throughout the northeastern United States.