Ticks are blood-sucking external parasites that attack people and pets. The most common tick in Pittwater is the Australian ‘paralysis tick’ (Ixodes holocyclus).
- Maintain your yard. Clear around your BBQ, verandahs and along pathways. Ticks often lay eggs in sheltered damp spots, under stones of soil, or crevices of walls and cracks of wood near the ground. The newly hatched larvae climb onto grass and shrubs and wait until a host brushes past. Ticks like lantana, so remove as much as possible.
- Keep covered when working in the garden. Wear long pants tucked into socks, sturdy shoes, a hat, and long-sleeved shirts. Light coloured clothes improve the chances of seeing ticks, and an insect repellent might help.
- Check yourself and pets for ticks. Brush off clothing and check your pet before entering the house. Check behind ears, scalp, armpits, groin and back of knees — undressed is best.
- Use a tick spray, rinse or skin treatment on your pet; see your vet for advice.
- Severe itching
- Muscle weakness and general feeling of not being well
- Allergic reactions that include difficulty swallowing and, in severe cases, difficulty in breathing and, occasionally, anaphylactic shock
- Progressive and occasionally fatal paralysis (as seen in wobbly dogs). In warm weather this secretion commences on about the 3rd day of attachment and peaks on the 5th or 6th day.
- Dogs and cats may have an altered bark or meow as a first symptom. Other symptoms include laboured breathing, loss of appetite, vomiting, lethargy, and paralysis of the back legs. Dogs and cats must be taken to a vet immediately upon noticing symptoms; also find the tick and remove it. There is an effective treatment but it takes up to 12 hours to take effect so the earlier the vet can treat your pet, the better.
1. Remove tick.
- Avoid tweezers — they cause the tick to inject more toxins and bacteria.
- Don’t scratch bites – avoid disturbing the tick prior to removal.
- Freeze don’t squeeze! For large ticks, use Wart Off or Medifreeze. Medifreeze kills the tick within about ten minutes and you can then brush it off.
- Grass ticks are best removed by soaking for 20 minutes in a warm bath with 1 cup bicarbonate of soda, or use a cream containing permethrin such as the scabies cream “Lyclear”.
2. Wash thoroughly.
3. Apply anti-itch ointment based on nettle, aloe or tea tree.
4. Seek medical assistance if there is an allergic reaction or tick poisoning symptoms.
5. If you are allergic, carry anti-histamines or an EpiPen (portable adrenaline injector).
TIARA (Tick Induced Allergies Research and Awareness) has a video on removing a tick from ABC’s Catalyst, as well as much more information on ticks, including infections and allergies.
Infections and allergies
- Tick Typhus or Spotted Fever: symptoms include headaches, rashes (although sometimes absent), swollen glands, fever and flu like symptoms. Generally the fever starts 1-14 days after the tick bite, followed by a rash within a few days.
- Lyme disease: symptoms are varied and include rashes, fever, muscle and joint pain, and arthritis. The disease can be chronic but is rarely fatal and is treatable with antibiotics if promptly diagnosed and correctly treated. Lyme disease is serious for pregnant women as it can infect the unborn baby, and potentially cause miscarriage, still birth and death after birth. Note that there is disagreement about whether Lyme disease exists in Australia.
- Severe or mild allergic reactions after eating red meats (all mammalian meats) can also occur from prior tick bites (see TIARA).
If you experience symptoms of tick typhus, Lyme disease or reaction to red meats, see a doctor immediately.