It’s tick season on the eastern seaboard of Australia and with school holidays approaching are you tick prepared?
The most important tick in Australia is the Paralysis Tick, Ixodes holocyclus, and over 95% of tick bites in Eastern Australia are due to this species.
Distribution of the Australian Paralysis Tick
The Paralysis Tick is most common in moist, humid coastal areas with abundant native animals that serve as hosts for the tick. Long grasses and bushland provide ideal environments for ticks, and if you live close to these areas, it is not uncommon to have Paralysis Ticks in your garden. This tick has a distinct seasonality; the larval stage is most active during the autumn months, the nymph during winter and the adult during the spring.
This tick is most active during periods of high humidity, especially after rain, and this is when you should take particular care to avoid tick bites.
Life Cycle of the Australian Paralysis Tick
The adult tick is 4mm before feeding on blood and up to 13mm after feeding on blood
A tick attaches itself by piercing its sharp mouthparts into skin. It then injects an anticoagulant (a substance that prevents blood from forming clots) saliva which allows it to feed without the blood clotting. In the case of the Paralysis Tick, the saliva may be highly toxic to some animals and, potentially, humans.
Most tick bites pose no medical problems apart from some localised swelling and redness at the bite site if the tick is removed promptly and properly. However, in some cases, people can experience more severe conditions such as tick paralysis or allergic reactions including anaphylactic shock. Early symptoms of tick paralysis may include rashes, headache, fever, influenza like symptoms, tenderness of lymph nodes, unsteady gait, intolerance to bright light, increased weakness of the limbs and partial facial paralysis. Tick paralysis, while rare, is usually seen in children rather than adults. Allergic reactions can result in swelling of the throat, and may lead to breathing difficulties or collapse. It is important to seek medical attention quickly if such symptoms occur. If you have had similar symptoms in the past after being bitten by a tick, then it is a good idea to always be prepared.
Recently a new syndrome known as “tick-induced mammalian meat allergy” has been described, whereby people bitten by the Paralysis Tick can subsequently develop an anaphylactic reaction to consuming meats and animal by-products such as gelatine. The allergic reactions to meat are typically delayed for 2-10 hours after eating the meat. The allergen in the meat to which people react is called “alphagal”. Some people are so sensitive to alphagal, they react to mammal products, particularly, their milk and gelatine. Any product derived from mammals may cause allergic reactions, making avoidance very difficult as the allergen may be found in a wide range of agents used in medical treatments, as well as in foods.
How to prevent tick bites?
The best way to prevent tick bites is to avoid tick-infested areas.
If this is not possible, wear appropriate clothing such as a long sleeved shirt, long pants tucked into socks and light coloured clothing to make it easier to see ticks on clothes before they attach to the skin.
Before entering possible tick infected environments apply an insect repellent containing diethyl-meta-toluamide (DEET) or picaridin to the skin. The higher the concentration of these ingredients, the longer the product will remain effective. We stock Bushman’s and Tropical Aeroguard at Fresh Therapeutics. “All natural” products aren’t recommended as they haven’t been proven effective.
Be thorough when applying repellents – think of it like sunscreen – if you miss an exposed bit it’s likely to get sunburn – likewise for repellents; they only protect the places they’ve been applied. The repellent should be applied and re-applied according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Clothing treated with permethrin is also recommended. Permethrin wash kits for treating clothes can be obtained from outdoor recreational stores and it is important to follow the label directions. Permethrin-treated clothing is considered the most effective means of preventing tick bite in tick infested areas.
All clothing should be removed after visiting tick infested areas and placed into a hot dryer for 20 minutes to kill any tick that could be still on the clothing. The entire body should be then checked for ticks of all sizes and stages, paying particular attention to areas behind the ears and the back of the head or neck, especially on children. Ticks can take up to 2 hours to actually bite you once they’ve found their way onto your skin and even then may go unnoticed for one to two days before you feel the effects of their bite.
Life Stages of the Tick
Very small ticks sometimes called “grass ticks” or “seed ticks” are in fact juvenile Australian Paralysis Ticks. These will rapidly grow to adult size at which point they’re at their most dangerous and will then lay up to 10,000 eggs before they die
Treating Tick Bites
Watch this video that demonstrates the safest way to remove ticks
Kill the tick where it is using an ether-containing spray such as Wartec ® Wartner Freeze Off ® Wart-off ® available at Fresh Therapeutics. Hold the spray approximately 0.5cm above the tick and spray 5 times until the tick is frozen.
Then, either wait for it to drop off or seek medical attention for it to be removed using tick removal tweezers (fine-tipped only) taking care to not squeeze the tick because this would cause tick saliva to enter your body, increasing the risk of tick- induced allergies.
For Adult Ticks: “FREEZE IT DON’T SQUEEZE IT”
Nymph and Larval Ticks (may look like a splinter)
- Dab on a blob of permethrin cream (Lyclear ®) to cover the tick (do not rub in)
- Leave for three hours and then wipe off
NB: There are limited data regarding permethrin use in pregnancy and it is not known whether it can be present in breast milk. During pregnancy, try to avoid exposure to ticks.
For Nymph and Larval Ticks: “DAB IT DON’T GRAB IT”
- Use household tweezers to remove a tick – they are too wide at the tips and you will inevitably squeeze the tick’s body forcing toxins into your blood
- Try to scratch or pull it out with your fingernails. Also, don’t scratch something you can’t see if there’s any chance it might be a tick.
- Try to burn it with a match or lighter.
- Apply any sort of substance to it. Lyclear Cream is the only substance that should be used (see below).
If the tick is close to the eyes or genitals don’t attempt to remove it yourself but seek medical assistance.
At Fresh Therapeutics we have what you need to be tick prepared:
- DEET and picardin Sprays
- Lyclear ® Cream
- Freeze off Sprays
- Tick tweezers