|Gary P. Wormser, M.D.|
In his 30 years as founder and lead physician of the Lyme Disease Diagnostic Center at New York Medical College (NYMC), Gary P. Wormser, M.D., professor of medicine, microbiology and immunology, and pharmacology, and vice chair of medicine for research and development at NYMC, has seen a countless number of ticks indigenous to New York State. But on June 4, 2018, a patient from Yonkers, New York walked into the Center with a tick Dr. Wormser hadn’t yet encountered. The exotic Haemaphysalis longicornis (H. longicornis), also known as the longhorn tick, was new to New York.
The patient had removed the tick from his leg earlier that morning, received treatment from his local physician, and was sent directly to the Lyme Disease Diagnostic Center—Westchester County’s most established walk-in clinic dedicated to treating Lyme disease and other tick-borne infections, which just celebrated 30 years of providing clinical care and conducting research to advance knowledge on tick-borne infections. Dr. Wormser confirmed the new species through a collaborative effort with the New York State Department of Health and Fordham University. “I sent the tick to Richard Falco [Ph.D.] a medical entomologist for the New York State Department of Health and a faculty member of Fordham University, who sent it to Rutgers for more sophisticated genetic analyses,” he explains.
“In 2017, this tick species was found on a sheep in New Jersey. It had not been known to exist in New York,” Dr. Wormser says. Since then, “H. longicornis ticks have been identified in New Jersey, several other states including West Virginia, Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina and now in New York State. No human in the United States was known to have been bitten,” he says.
Speaking to the potential impact, Dr. Wormser says the new species means more ticks to potentially bite humans. “This tick is clearly a concern for farm animals where it can cause anemia, a reduction in milk production from cattle, and potentially transmit diseases. Whether it is a concern for spreading human infections in the United States is unclear at present,” he says.