The Tick Threat
G. ANTHONIE RIIS
Fort Knox News
Fort Knox, Kentucky
Native ticks and the burgeoning bacteria, viruses and parasites they spread through their bites have been a growing problem in the United States. Now, an invasive tick is adding to the alarm.
According to the Department of Defense’s Armed Forces Pest Management Board, the invader, known as the East Asian tick, was first identified in 2017 and has been thriving in several states. Also known as the Asian longhorned tick, of special concern is its ability to mass reproduce.
According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention article titled “Asian Longhorned Tick Spreading Widely in U.S.,” “a single female can reproduce offspring (1-2,000 eggs at a time) without mating. As a result, hundreds to thousands of ticks can be found on a single animal, person or in an environment.”
The pest management board has recommended that Army installations where ticks and tick-borne diseases are prevalent conduct tick surveillance programs to locate ticks and discover if they’re spreading diseases. Fort Knox, Bluegrass Army Depot and Crane Naval Support Activity began tick surveillance programs in 2018, where they monitored ticks found on the game that hunters killed during hunting season.
Andrew Dickson, an anthropologist with the Bluegrass Army Depot’s Environmental and Land Management office, said the first survey found that different ticks are coming to Kentucky, but that the Asian variety has not yet been found.
“We did a tick and blood collection from our deer harvest, and we sent the ticks to a lab to find out what kind they were — to see if they were male or female and to check for invasive species,” Dickson said. “[The surveillance] did record the first Gulf Coast tick in the area, but we have yet to record the Asian longhorned tick. We have no evidence of that tick being here.”
Dickson said he is still concerned.
“It sounds as if Kentucky would be a good environment if the tick has spread to West Virginia and Arkansas [two states with reported Asian tick finds],” Dickson said. “We’re right in the middle of that.”
Dickson sees the biggest threat being to animals, which are largely defenseless against ticks.
“Most of our workers have DEET readily available to them, and we advise them to use it if they’re in the tall grass or woods — and they do,” Dickson said. “It would have the greatest effect on our animals. A tick that could mass produce would absolutely be something we’d be concerned about — especially if they carried diseases. We have a good concentration of deer and turkey here, and we have cattle on the installation as well. That could hurt our populations if this were to become a problem.”
While the surveillance didn’t reveal the Asian longhorned tick, the information collected could determine what diseases ticks in the area might carry.
“After screening for ticks at Fort Knox, Blue Grass Army Depot and Crane Naval Support Activity, we determined that there is a large population [of native ticks] at all three Installations, with over 1,300 ticks collected at Fort Knox in one day,” said Lt. Col. Krystal Bean, commander of Fort Knox’s Public Health Activity. “Disease screening is still ongoing. We are screening collected ticks of all species for other diseases like Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and we did find some prevalence of zoonotic [spread from animals to humans] disease organisms at all locations. [This helps] determine the risk level to the populations served by these installations.”
Knowing the diseases that ticks can transmit allows residents to avoid them, repel them or safely get rid of them.
“Any tick bite could spread disease. If you or your pet are bitten by a tick, carefully collect it and submit it [dead or alive] to Fort Knox Preventive Medicine. Ticks from pets can be submitted to the Fort Knox Veterinary Treatment Facility,” Bean said. “Wear light colored clothing that ticks can be easily seen on with pants tucked into boots. Check your body and clothing for ticks upon return from tick-infested areas, and shower as soon as possible to wash off any unattached ticks.”
Did You Know?
Ticks are found on Army installations throughout the United States, mainly in wooded areas, weeds and tall grasses. The Department of Defense offers a free tick identification and testing service for military health clinics and healthcare providers called the Human Tick Test Kit Program. The HTTKP is provided by the Tick-borne Disease Laboratory at the Army Public Health Center located at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. The HTTKP helps combat the threat of tick-borne diseases to DOD personnel and serves as a “first alert” for tick-bite patients and their healthcare providers.
The HTTKP serves all DOD personnel, including Soldiers and other active-duty personnel from all services, as well as DOD civilians, Reservists, retirees and the families of all of the above. If you are a member of any of the aforementioned groups and are bitten by a tick, you are entitled to send the tick to the HTTKP via a military clinic for free identification and testing. The HTTKP only tests ticks removed from humans and only accepts tick specimens from the continental US.
For additional information, or to request tick kits or services, contact the Tick-borne Disease Laboratory by phone at (410) 436-5421 or by email at email@example.com. Additional information about ticks and tick-borne illnesses can be found on the APHC website at https://phc.amedd.army.mil/topics/envirohealth/epm/Pages/HumanTickTestKitProgram.aspx and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at https://www.cdc.gov/media/dpk/diseases-and-conditions/lyme-disease/index.html.