On 27 May, 2018 The Independent Voice of West Virginia WVNews issued an article on the confirmed presence of the longhorned tick in West Virginia.
Why is this significant to Australia?
This species of tick is not native to the United States. The cattle tick originates from temperate areas of East and Central Asia, including China, Korea, and Japan, as well as Pacific islands including Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, and Hawaii. The tick was not known to be present on mainland United States until late 2017, when it was first discovered on a farm in New Jersey, though it had been collected in US ports on imported animals and materials at least a dozen times prior. Attempts to eradicate the species from New Jersey have failed and has since become established in the State as an invasive species.
Over the many years of travelling overseas, I have been extremely impressed with Australia's attitude to the protocols adopted with regard to goods being imported into Australia. This was in my pre-Lyme life when I was oblivious to the effects of the illness and now, knowing what I do, I cannot understand how any government authority can deny that a huge array of ticks are not now present in Australia. Lets face it, some ticks are the size of a pinhead (a nymph or sometimes referred to as seed ticks) and can be spirited in on humans travelling from far-flung destinations and we human travellers are not subject to the 'strict conditions' described below, nor birds who fly to different parts of the world during their migration process. It would be simply foolish to deny that these birds are not carrying diseases in many forms. Cattle ticks live on mammals and birds, can spread quickly in farm animals such as cattle, horses, sheep, pigs, and chickens. Natural infestations have been found on wild animals like bear, deer, foxes, hares, kangaroos, penguins, and small mammals like rats, ferrets, and birds. Ticks have been found on cats, dogs, and also humans.
In a peer reviewed research article in 2005, the researchers stated:
"Moreover, birds may play an important role in the geographic spread of ticks and borreliae. Dispersal distances for birds are generally much larger than for small mammalian hosts of Ixodes ticks, and because of their annual migrations, birds have been implicated as long-distance dispersal agents of vector ticks and pathogenic borreliae. Bird communities also are changing radically due to human impacts, with large shifts in species composition, total abundance, and relative abundances among species. Geographic distributions of individual species are changing with climate, land use, and introduction of exotic species. Although Lyme disease cases in the far western United States are rare compared to other regions of North America, birds, because of their high mobility, are likely to be the most important vertebrate hosts of B. burgdorferi s.l. in determining the northward spread of Lyme disease in western North America due to climate and related anthropogenic changes."
On the Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy's Website the section on migratory birds outlines bilateral migratory bird agreements with Japan, China, and Korea.
"For over 30 years, Australia has played an important role in international cooperation to conserve migratory birds in the East Asian - Australasian Flyway (the Flyway), entering into bilateral migratory bird agreements with Japan in 1974, China in 1986 and most recently the Republic of Korea in 2007. Each of these agreements provides for the protection and conservation of migratory birds and their important habitats, protection from take or trade except under limited circumstances, the exchange of information, and building cooperative relationships.
Birds listed on the annexes to these three agreements, together with those on Appendices I or II of the Bonn Convention, must also be placed on the migratory species list under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act)."
Further, on this same website is a warning on Avian Influenza (bird flu), a notifiable disease, and for persons working with poultry and other birds are at risk of contracting the illness. The first case of avian influenza was identified on March 30, 2013 and by April 18 the virus had spread and was detected in six different provinces and cities in China. According to a study published in the The Lancet, researchers have confirmed that the A H7N9 bird flu virus, which began in February 2013, was transmitted from chickens at a wet poultry market to humans. The Avian flu can, and has, killed people.
They Lancet: "The H7 phylogenetic tree also showed that varied H7 viruses were circulating in wild ducks along the east Asian flyway, which covers eastern China, South Korea, and Japan."
The irony being that our bilateral migratory bird agreements are with China, Korea, and Japan!
Ticks go through four life stages - eggs, larva, nymph, and adult. Female ticks are capable of spreading Lyme disease in the nymph and adult stage. The blood obtained from any host allows the female adult to nourish her eggs and once engorged with blood, it releases from the host and can lay up to 1,000 eggs. Once the eggs hatch, they enter the larva stage and are usually found in high concentrations. As data is not being collected here by the Government, because Lyme is not a notifiable disease, (conservative) American CDC data suggests that 30,000 people each year are diagnosed (not forgetting that many arn't) then only 30 ticks would be necessary to cause havoc (assuming they were carrying potential pathogens). Statistics out of China estimate that over 70 million people are infected there. You can do the maths on this, but my point is we are having significant numbers of birds migrating annually from many parts of the world. Which government department is monitoring their disease carrying potential?
Interesting then that the LDAA recently received a letter from the Australian Government in response to correspondence in December 2017 with regard to imported livestock into Australia. The response stated:
"In regards to your concerns about livestock imported to Australia and the potential for them to carry ticks, I am advised by the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR) that Australia's import conditions do not permit the importation of livestock other than sheep, goats and horses from a number of countries. DAWR sets policies for the importation of live animals into Australia, with strict conditions for import in order to protect Australia's bio-security. The import conditions for livestock and horses include the requirement for a thorough veterinary inspection for evidence of external parasites prior to, and on arrival into Australia, in addition to treatment with an appropriate parasiticide during pre-export quarantine."
I wonder how often the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources and the Department of the Environment and Energy get together to discuss bio-security and potential threats. Should the Department of Health care to join this fora we might perhaps gain some traction but in the meantime the concern on the toll on human health lies far behind that of the concern for migrating birds!
Article by Anne Ryan. Opinions in this article are mine and do not reflect the opinions of the LDAA.