Ticks are parasites that depend on the blood of animals and humans for survival. There are around 75 different species of ticks in Australia, but perhaps the most important from a health standpoint is Ixodes holocyclus, also known as the paralysis tick.
What do paralysis ticks look like?
Paralysis ticks are classified as hard ticks, meaning that they have a hard, flat, oval-shaped body. They also have small heads with elongated mouthparts. A tick’s legs are very close to its head. Paralysis ticks have 8 legs (except during the larval stage when they have 6). The first pair of legs (closest to the head) is brown, followed by two lighter, whitish pairs, and the last pair is also darker and brown. Adult ticks that have not fed recently may be 4-5 mm long, but fully engorged ticks can grow to over 1 cm and look extremely round and swollen.
Where do paralysis ticks live?
Ixodes holocyclus like humid coastal areas that receive a lot of moisture. They are most often found in long grass and bushland and are extremely active during high humidity and after rain. Paralysis ticks are plentiful on the eastern seaboard of Australia. They live in a band that extends about 20 km inland along the whole coast. Since the most densely populated cities are in these areas, encounters with paralysis ticks are relatively common.
When are ticks most active?
Paralysis ticks have very distinct seasonality, though it varies between life stages. Larval stages are common from February to May, nymphs are most prevalent from March to October, and Adult tick populations typically peak in December.
Are paralysis ticks dangerous?
Most tick bites only involve localised swelling and redness, but other more dangerous side effects are possible. The saliva of a tick can be toxic to some animals and humans, and allergic reactions may occur, including anaphylaxis. Ticks are also known carriers of diseases, including Queensland tick typhus and Flinders Island Spotted Fever.
The paralysis tick can also cause major symptoms, including paralysis, in animals and humans. Symptoms may include: rash, headache, fever, limb weakness, partial face paralysis, sensitivity to bright lights, and other flu-like symptoms. These are particularly dangerous for small pets and children. Another more recently discovered side effect is “tick-induced mammalian meat allergy.” People who receive a tick bite can develop an anaphylactic reaction to eating meat or other animal by-products.
How can you prevent ticks?
Whenever you are in tick habitat, you should wear long-sleeved shirts, pants that are tucked into socks, and close-toed shoes. It is also helpful to wear light clothing so that the dark ticks are easier to spot.
Using an insect repellent containing DEET or picaridin is another important step in tick prevention. Clothing treated with permethrin has also been shown to be effective in preventing them. Once you return home, place all clothing in a hot dryer for 20 minutes to kill any ticks you may have picked up and check your body thoroughly. You should also check your pets carefully and talk to your veterinarian about tick prevention products.
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