YORK COUNTY, S.C. (WCBD) – An infestation of invasive ticks has been found in South Carolina, according to an announcement from the Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC).

A large population of the species – identified as Asian longhorned ticks – was confirmed to be infesting a pasture at a cattle farm in York County Friday.

“The concern, really, is that this tick could overwhelm livestock, or dogs, or people. So you could be out walking in the field with your dog, and you could get hundreds of ticks,” said Dr. Melissa Nolan, assistant professor of Epidemiology in the Arnold School of Public Health and director for the University of South Carolina Laboratory of Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases.

The discovery of this tick infestation is a result of the state’s tick surveillance program, which recently was awarded a $585,000 grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

“We’re very excited that we were recently awarded a five year grant that will allow us to specifically enhance the tick surveillance project that we’re doing,” Nolan said.

As part of these surveillance efforts, health officials ask residents to carefully submit ticks suspected to be Asian longhorned ticks for confirmatory identification, according to DHEC’s press release.

This process helps the department determine tick species presence, distribution, seasonality and potential tick-borne disease risks.

The Asian longhorned tick was first found in the U.S. in 2010 and has since been found in 17 states, according to a June report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  

In South Carolina, a small number of the ticks were found on shelter dogs in Lancaster and Pickens counties in 2020.

Asian longhorned ticks are considered by experts to be more aggressive than most other ticks found in South Carolina because of the rate at which they reproduce. In fact, a single female Asian longhorned tick can produce 1,000 to 2,000 eggs at a time without mating.

“It doesn’t need a male to reproduce, so you can get thousands of ticks in one population. And that’s not normal,” Nolan explained.

Bites from these ticks have caused severe illnesses in people, animals and livestock in other countries, according to the state’s press release.

“While no documented cases of diseases such as Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, or anaplasmosis have been reported in the United States due to bites from Asian longhorned ticks, the ability of this tick species to spread diseases that can make people and animals ill is a concern,” said Dr. Chris Evans, State Public Health Entomologist with DHEC’s Bureau of Environmental Health Services.

Although there is no evidence that these ticks are harming humans in the U.S, state health officials urge residents of the state to be mindful of ticks when outdoors, especially in wooded areas.

“Really, it’s good guidance for everyone, and certainly parents as well, to keep an eye out for their kids. Once we’re traveling through these areas, always do a daily tick check,” said Dr. Stephen Thacker, Pediatric Infectious Disease Physician at MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital.

DHEC provides these tips for preventing tick bites and possible exposure to tick-borne illnesses:

  • Use U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, para-menthane-diol, or 2-undecanone.
  • Treat clothing and gear, such as boots, pants, socks and tents with products containing 0.5% permethrin.
  • Wear protective clothing tucked in around the ankles and waist.
  • Shower with soap and shampoo soon after being outdoors.
  • Keep weeds and tall grass cut and avoid tick-infested places such as grassy and marshy woodland areas when possible.
  • Stay in the center of paths when hiking or walking through woods.
  • Check for ticks daily, especially under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist and on the hairline.
  • Check pets for ticks daily and treat pets for ticks as recommended by a veterinarian.

More information on the Asian longhorned tick infestation can be found on DHEC’s website.