Dog ticks a growing concern in Alaska

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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) - Many people think ticks can’t live in Alaska, but a state veterinarian says that’s not the case.

Some ticks, such as hare ticks, have always survived in the state, but nonnative dog ticks also have been found in Alaska, raising concerns for dogs, wildlife and the risk of spreading diseases to people.

Kimberlee Beckmen of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Fairbanks told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner (http://bit.ly/1gNmNF8 ) ticks on small mammals like snowshoe hares, squirrels and birds are endemic to the state.

“I’ve been working for the department for 12 years, and from Day One, I’ve had ticks coming in,” Beckmen said. “We’ve always had ticks on wildlife.”

In the past three years, Beckmen also has found at least two types of nonnative dog ticks surviving in Alaska.

She said a handful of dogs and cats in the Fairbanks area are infected with tularemia after coming across a snowshoe are that’s infected.

“It’s kind of an annual thing,” Beckmen said.

Hare ticks prefer hares as hosts but will take dogs, cats or other opportune hosts. Squirrel ticks are even more common on pets.

“If a hungry tick can’t find a hare or a squirrel to get on and a dog or cat comes by, it’s going to suck on whatever mammal it can get a hold of,” Beckmen said.

Since 2011, she has found at least two other types of ticks in Alaska: the American dog tick and brown dog tick.

She said both have been found on animals that never left the state, which is a sign that parasitic arachnids can and are surviving in the 49th state.

“They’re established, they’re breeding, and they’re staying here,” Beckmen said.

Ticks can transmit diseases like tularemia, Lyme disease, Q fever and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, from animals to humans. Currently, only tularemia and Q fever are present here.

The presence of new ticks also poses a threat to wildlife such as caribou, coyote, fox, moose and Sitka black-tailed deer.

“It is a big concern because the populations of animals up here haven’t been exposed to these tick-borne diseases,” said Dr. Robert Gerlach, the state’s head veterinarian. “If we get a tick that comes up and now can survive in this environment, we can get disease spread in a wildlife or the human population we’re not used to, which could have drastic results.”

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