CHARLESTON - The presence of the longhorned tick, a non-native species dangerous to livestock, pets and humans, has been confirmed locally in Putnam and Lincoln counties, according to the West Virginia Department of Agriculture. The tick has also been found in Tyler, Taylor, Ritchie and Hardy counties.
The ticks were discovered on pet dogs in Putnam and Lincoln counties in June.
The longhorned tick is considered a serious threat to livestock, particularly cattle, and is known to carry several diseases prone to animals and humans. Heavy infestation in animals can cause stunted growth, decreased production and death. In humans, the tick may harbor diseases like severe fever with thrombocytopenia, which can have a 30 percent fatality rate, and possibly Rocky Mountain spotted fever, a bacterial disease that can be deadly if not treated early with the right antibiotic.
Native to East Asia and the Pacific region, the tick is a well-known problem to cattle farmers in New Zealand.
"This tick has been associated with bacterial and viral tickborne disease in other parts of the world," said Miguella Mark-Carew, director of epidemiology and prevention services for the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, Bureau for Public Health, in a release. "Like deer ticks that transmit Lyme disease, longhorned ticks are very small and can be difficult to find on people and animals. It is important to conduct full-body tick checks when returning from time outdoors in wooded areas."
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Inspection Services first identified the longhorned tick in the United States in New Jersey in November 2017. The tick's presence was then confirmed in Albemarle County, Virginia, in May before being discovered on farms in Hardy County.
There currently is no known link between the West Virginia, Virginia or New Jersey cases, and the tick has also been confirmed in Benton County, Arkansas.
Female longhorned ticks can reproduce without males, meaning one tick can breed a massive population. The first three confirmed cases appear to have all been the offspring of an original female progenitor.
"Livestock producers, animal owners and veterinarians should notify the State Veterinarian's Office if they notice any unusual ticks or ticks that occur in large numbers on an individual animal," said state veterinarian Dr. James Maxwell in a news release. "Livestock producers can work with their veterinarians to develop a tick prevention and control program."
Tick submissions are encouraged through the Veterinary Tick Submission Project, a voluntary tick surveillance program that tests ticks for disease pathogens.
For questions about animals, call the WVDA's Animal Health Division at 304-558-2214.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.