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Information on Ticks

Ticks are common in many parts of the world, including Alaska. They live by feeding on the blood of other animals. Some infected ticks can transmit pathogens (bacteria or viruses that cause disease). Non-infected ticks do not spread pathogens, but some kinds of ticks can cause anemia (blood loss) on a single animal from feeding on it if the tick population gets too large.

Some species of ticks bite (feed) on humans. In the contiguous United States, there are several different human-biting ticks. Not all of these tick species have been found in Alaska, but it is important that we are aware of these ticks. Alaskans could bring these ticks back with them when they travel to other parts of the United States. Similarly, it is important to be aware of ticks that have been found in British Columbia and the Yukon Territory of Canada because of their proximity to Alaska.

Alaska is home to six native tick species, or ticks that have historically been found in the state. These native ticks generally feed on squirrels, rabbits, other small wild mammals, and birds. However, it is not uncommon to find these ticks feeding on moose, dogs, or cats. In rare cases, they may be found on humans. These six native tick species are as follows:

Scientific Name Common Name
Haemaphysalis leporispalustris Hare or Rabbit Tick
Ixodes angustus Squirrel or Vole Tick
Ixodes auritulus and Ixodes howelli Bird Tick
Ixodes signatus and Ixodes uriae Seabird (birds that frequent the coast) Tick 

In the past few years, several new tick species have been found in Alaska. These ticks are referred to as non-native or invasive ticks because they have historically not been found in Alaska. Many of these new tick species commonly feed on humans and are capable of transmitting pathogens. The Alaska Office of the State Veterinarian, the Alaska Department of Fish Game, and researchers at the University of Alaska are tracking these non-native ticks by field sampling and through public tick submissions with the Alaska Submit-A-Tick program.

The Alaska Submit-A-Tick program is an outreach program that asks the public to help with discovering non-native ticks by saving and submitting any tick that they find on themselves, their family members, or their pets or wildlife. After ticks are submitted to the program, they undergo species identification and pathogen testing. Species identification will help determine what type of ticks are currently in Alaska. We will also be able to update the map that shows where ticks have been found in the state. Pathogen testing will help us understand more about the bacteria, parasites, or viruses that these ticks may be carrying.

Individuals traveling to tick-infested areas with pets. Many Alaskans do not use tick or flea prevention on themselves or on their pets because of the low risk of coming into contact with ticks or fleas in Alaska. When people travel with their pets to areas outside of Alaska where ticks are common, it is possible that they will encounter a tick while spending time outside. The size of some feeding ticks can be very small and are easily hidden on the pet or in luggage. If the tick is not removed from the pet properly, when travelers return to Alaska and the tick has fully fed, it will fall off and is now introduced into the new environment.

Animal movement from British Columbia. Several different tick species are found in British Columbia (B.C.). As B.C. is Alaska’s closest neighbor, it is important for us to be aware of these nearby tick populations. Many large and small mammals regularly cross the Alaskan-Canadian border and it is possible that ticks are hitching a ride from British Columbia to Alaska.

Migratory birds. Many migratory birds that overwinter across the globe return to Alaska each spring and summer to nest and raise their families. If a tick is feeding on a migratory bird when it arrives in Alaska, it is possible that the tick will fall off after feeding and survive. If the tick then lays eggs, the newly hatched ticks will find a new animal host to feed on and eventually reproduce, thus establishing a presence.

Ticks can transmit bacteria or viruses that cause diseases in humans, domestic animals (livestock and pets), and wildlife. In addition, some tick species can cause serious harm to wildlife such as moose, if the tick population grows too large. Tick monitoring plays an important role in non-native tick management and helps us understand how non-native ticks are being imported into the state. This information is vital to help create effective strategies to limit their introduction and establishment in Alaska.

The most effective strategy to prevent tickborne disease is to use repellants when needed and remove ticks before you are bitten. This requires knowing where you could come into contact with ticks. Monitoring helps learn more about the risk of being exposed to a tick in Alaska and helps identify where in the state ticks are present.

If you are bitten by a tick, it is important that you can identify symptoms of tickborne diseases and that you talk to a doctor if symptoms develop. Veterinarians and clinicians also need to know where ticks have been found in the state because they use this information to make decisions about diagnostic tests and treatment. Monitoring will provide up-to-date information to clinicians and veterinarians on the risk of acquiring tickborne diseases in Alaska.

Finally, as winters become more mild across Alaska, it is likely that the areas where ticks can survive in the state will expand. Monitoring will allow us to establish a baseline so that we can detect the movement or expansion of tick populations.

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