New tick found in Illinois could make people sick

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The Gulf Coast tick, an arachnid known to carry an unpleasant pathogen, may be taking up residence in Illinois.

Typically found in subtropical regions, the tick has recently been found in 14 counties in the southern part of the state, according to Dr. Holly Tuten, vector ecologist at the Illinois Natural History Survey Medical Entomology Lab.

Tuten said the tick can be found as far south as South America, and it usually lives in environments with higher winter temperatures with more precipitation.

“Its historic range in the United States tends to be across the south, so from Texas out to North Carolina, as far north as Kentucky,” Tuten told The Center Square. “So typically the northern edge of this tick’s occurrence is at the northern edge of what’s known as the humid subtropical zone.”

The tick most likely arrived hitching a ride on a bird or large mammal, but it may turn out to like its destination, Tuten said.

“It’s possible if the conditions are right for it to survive over the winter that a population could become established,” Tuten said.

The Gulf Coast tick can carry a pathogen formally known as Rickettsia parkeri that makes humans sick. Fox 2 Now reports 57% of the ticks tested returned positive for carrying the pathogen.

“Colloquially, some people call it Tidewater spotted fever, and this disease agent is related to the same disease agent that causes Rocky Mountain spotted fever that’s transmitted by a different tick species,” Tuten said.

Tidewater spotted fever can cause fever, muscle aches, headaches, and a rash.

People should take the same precautions against the Gulf Coast tick as they would in avoiding any other tick, Tuten said. It is important for people to understand that this tick may occur in a different environment than the usual trail side or forest they typically associate with ticks.

“The Gulf Coast tick is able to withstand drier environments and stronger sun, so this tick can be found in fallow fields or prairies,” Tuten said.

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