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Experts warn of rapid spread, impact of lone star tick-associated disease

Lone star ticks have been implicated in causing a handful of zoonotic illnesses that are serious to humans and animals.

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At the AVMA 2017 convention in Indianapolis, experts in human allergy, parasitology, and entomology joined to discuss the lone star tick, its geographic spread, and the zoonotic diseases it can transmit.

Scott P. Commins, MD, Ph.D., an allergist at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill; Brian Herrin, DVM, Ph.D., DACVM, a post-doctoral researcher at Oklahoma State University’s Center for Animal Health; and Thomas Mather, Ph.D., professor of entomology and director of the TickEncounter Resource Center at the University of Rhode Island, comprised the panel.

“Recent national news coverage has underscored the migration of the lone star tick to new areas of the U.S. and Canada,” said Zach Mills, DVM, executive director, U.S. Pet Vet Veterinary Professional Services at Boehringer Ingelheim, discussion sponsor. “This panel offered a discussion for veterinarians on the wide range of diseases this parasite can transmit, including the red meat allergy discovered by Dr. Commins and his colleagues.”

Dr. Herrin reviewed diseases that can be transmitted by the lone star tick and emphasized that, as this tick expands into new territories across the country, more pet owners and their animals may be exposed to tick-borne illness.

Bites from these ticks can trigger an allergy to red meat. Commins, one of the allergists who identified the connection between the lone star tick and the alpha-gal allergy in humans, discussed his findings, the symptoms of the allergy, and the influx of cases he’s seen recently, as well as many others he has learned about from colleagues from Georgia to New York.

Dr. Mather, often referred to as the “TickGuy,” and who has raised more than $16 million to support his tick-borne disease research and outreach while publishing more than 110 papers on the subject, wrapped up the session by presenting “Five Things Every Veterinarian Should Know About Lone Star Ticks.”

During his presentation, Mather asked attendees, “Who knew they really are the ‘fastest’ tick and that male lone stars, while common, are the least recognized tick in America?”

Lone star tick facts

  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, lone star ticks can be found in at least 30 U.S. states, usually in areas with shaded, low-lying vegetation. Their distribution continues to widen across the country.
  • Its name comes from the distinctive “lone star” white marking on the female’s back.
  • The lone star tick is an aggressive biter that latches onto deer, birds, dogs, and humans alike. Adult females gorge on host blood for seven to 10 days, during which time they can quadruple in size.
  • Females can lay up to 3,000 eggs at a time.
  • Lone star ticks are responsible for more bites to humans in the southern U.S. than any other species. Their large mouthparts cause a particularly irritating bite.
  • Because the lone star tick does not transmit Lyme disease, people once considered the parasite to be more of a nuisance than a treat to human and animal health. However, this tick can spread a handful of other serious zoonotic illnesses to their hosts.
  • Lone star ticks have been implicated in causing tick paralysis and Southern tick-associated rash illness, and they can transmit the pathogens that cause erlichiosis, tularemia, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
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