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More kinds of ticks, longer season as experts warn 'Illinois is at the frontline'

Avani Kalra, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Science & Technology News

CHICAGO — As tick season approaches, experts warn that Illinois residents should be even more wary as the type of ticks in the state increases and the season lengthens.

Researchers discovered the Asian longhorned tick — an invasive species native to Japan, Korea and parts of China and Russia — in Illinois in April. First reported in the United States in 2017, the tick has since spread to 20 states.

“The role that this tick will play in the transmission of infections in humans is yet to be determined,” the Illinois Department of Public Health said in a recent statement.

But the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the tick is not likely to increase the spread of Lyme disease or cause a significant nuisance for humans. Instead, according to Mark Ernst, a veterinarian with the Illinois Department of Agriculture, the longhorned tick is most likely to affect cattle.

Though the longhorned tick generally targets cattle, Maureen Murray, assistant director of the Urban Wildlife Institute at Lincoln Park Zoo, said Chicago residents should be on the lookout for other types of ticks.

Tick patterns tend to vary significantly from year to year, Murray said, but one consistency has been a movement in tick season.

 

“We’re seeing less severe winters, which might lead to more ticks,” Murray said. “Fewer ticks die during the winter, and ticks can be active sooner in the spring, just because it warms up faster.”

Chris Stone, a medical entomologist at the Illinois Natural History Survey, said he suspects climate change is affecting the types of ticks in Illinois in a few different ways.

First, he said, warmer winters may be encouraging ticks to migrate. His lab has found the Gulf Coast tick, a tick that was once limited to the southern United States, across southern Illinois, he said. The tick can cause rickettsial disease, a type of Rocky Mountain spotted fever, in humans, which can cause fever, vomiting and even death.

“With particularly the winters getting milder, which is one of the main changes we’ve seen in Illinois over the past several decades, that could affect species and allow them to spread further north,” Stone said.

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