'What we have here is a tick': State veterinarians monitoring tick species after death of bulls

berk cow tick story
Posted at 6:00 PM, Aug 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-16 18:18:57-04

FRANKFORT, Ky. (LEX 18) — On the many pastures of Kentucky, it looks like another beautiful summer day. It’s also business as usual for a Tuesday inside the Bluegrass Stockyards, where another cattle sale was taking place.

But inside the offices of the veterinarians with the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, it’s a much different story, as a pervasive tick has arrived in the Commonwealth. Already it's believed to have contributed to the death of two beef bulls on opposite ends of the state (Hart and Fleming counties).

“What we’ve got here is a tick. (It’s) an Arthropod Vector that can carry certain diseases or germs,” said state Veterinarian, Dr. Kerry Barling.

Dr. Barling is referring to the Asian Longhorned Tick (ALT) carrying an organism called, Theileria. Theileria is a protozoa that can infect white and red blood cells. The ALT tick is a little more prevalent on the west coast but has spread east.

“We have found this tick in 17 states, and that number is growing,” Dr. Barling stated.

While the death of two bulls is upsetting, if the spread of Theileria stopped with them, we’d have a manageable situation. The problem is that no one can be certain how many cows or bulls have been infected.

Some could be infected with it right now and might not suffer the same fate as those two bulls. Others could wind up with other symptoms. In female cattle, for example, Theileria has been known to cause stillbirths.

Because the species of tick is relatively new to the United States and virtually brand new in Kentucky, much is still to be learned.

“I know they’ve been monitoring these ticks for quite some time,” said Bluegrass Stockyards CEO, Jim Akers. “I feel like they’ve got a really good handle on the gravity and scope of the situation,” he continued.

Both Akers and Dr. Barling believe it is possible that a cow’s dairy and beef production could be hampered should they come down with this disease. They are adamant about setting the record straight about whether or not we could have a health crisis for those who consume meat or dairy from an infected cow.

“The Theileria Orientalis Ikeida – the cow disease – is not transmissible to humans. Or we have not documented that,” Dr. Barling said. “We are confident in saying that it does not pose a public health concern,” he added.

“There is no human risk there. It’s not transmissible to people through direct contact or consuming products from those animals. Everybody needs to be very comfortable with that,” Akers said.

Dr. Barling said cattle farmers should not be sharing needles when administering injections. It is also highly recommended that any instruments used for medical procedures, such as dehorning or castrations, be disinfected thoroughly as the tick-borne disease is transmitted through the blood.

If there is only one infected cow on a given farm it can remain that way, if those above, and other precautions are taken.