The state of Maine is taking new steps to stop the spread of ticks at the same time researchers watch for a new species to enter the state.
A popular landscaping plant called the Japanese barberry bush is now illegal to buy and sell in the state, according to Gary Fish, Maine's horticulturist. He said birds eat its berries, depositing seeds in wooded areas. There, the barberry bush can grow rampant and create ideal conditions for mice and ticks to thrive. There, the ticks can feed on Lyme disease-infected mice, furthering its spread.
"If you cut the barberry out, and grow something else there, studies show the reduction in ticks in 60 percent," said Fish.
While people with barberry bushes on their property are not required to remove them, Fish said it would help.
"It's an important step for Maine," he said. "We are one of the last New England states to ban this plant."
Vector ecologist Chuck Lubelczyk said the barberry bush ban is helpful, but not a solution to the tick problem.
"A ban is a good idea, but it's not going to do anything against the stuff already in place," Lubelczyk said. "We have a lot of it in the state to wrestle with."
Lubelczyk said there is another tick threat across the eastern seaboard that could make its way up to New England: the East Asian, or longhorned, tick. While it originates in Asia, the longhorned tick has been found on livestock in states like New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
"This tick gets in very high numbers and has been the cause of death in livestock fatalities," he said.
The East Asian tick is problematic because it can reproduce without a mate, infests mammals in high numbers and uses a variety of animals as hosts.
"It gets on everything it can," including humans, said Lubelczyk. "When people have encountered them, they are getting hundreds of them on them at one time. It's pretty disgusting."
The tick can carry a fatal virus, but none in the U.S. have been found to be carrying a disease harmful to humans. So far, it’s animals that are the most at risk.