Tickborne diseases are reported year-round in New Jersey and are transmitted primarily by three ticks of medical importance. The Gulf Coast tick has traditionally been found in the southeastern part of the United States, although reports of this tick have expanded northward, including in surrounding states. While isolated reports of the Gulf Coast tick have been reported in New Jersey, an established population has been detected for the first time this summer in Salem County.
The Gulf Coast tick is a concern for human and animal health and is the primary vector for Rickettsia parkeri in humans, which is one of the spotted fever group rickettsioses (SFGR), the most well-known being Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF caused by Rickettsia rickettsii). The Gulf Coast tick is also the vector for the parasite that causes American canine hepatozoonosis (ACH) in dogs and has health implications for livestock as well.
R. parkeri rickettsiosis symptoms develop 2-10 days after the bite of an infected tick and usually present first with an inoculation eschar resembling a scabbed sore or pimple at the site of infection. Other symptoms include fever, fatigue, headache, muscle pain, and generalized rash.
While commercial testing for SFGR is widely available, acute and convalescent serum specimens are needed to confirm infection and unfortunately, serological testing cannot distinguish between rickettsia species. PCR testing is not sensitive in blood during early stages of illness, but eschars can contain large amounts of rickettsial DNA. PCR testing (eschar swabs) is available through NJDOH.
ACH is a severe and potentially fatal infection in dogs caused by a parasite transmitted not by a tick bite but by dogs ingesting infected Gulf Coast ticks. There is no cure for ACH, although combination antimicrobial treatment can increase survival time, improve quality of life, and decrease the number and severity of clinical relapses.
The attached message has information about human and animal health implications and general information about the Gulf Coast tick.
NJDOH requests that healthcare providers seeing patients presenting with an eschar in whom R. parkeri infection is suspected consider collecting an eschar swab for rickettsial testing at NJDOH. Refer to the NJDOH webpage on spotted fever group rickettsioses for specimen collection guidance.
Veterinarians should continue to encourage dog owners to use year-round tick preventatives and supervise dogs when outdoors to minimize accidental consumption of ticks on themselves or small animals.
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