Ticks and the Diseases They Cause

It’s a common misconception that ticks only pose a health risk to animals. Though they are most often found on pets, ticks are a danger to humans too. Ticks are a parasite that transmit infections through the bloodstream. They thrive in shady, grassy areas and attach themselves to passing hosts so that they can feed and/or mate.

The threat they pose to animals can be quite severe. Babesiosis and ehrlichiosisfound in dogs can cause deadly anemia. As well as keeping up to date with regular topical tick medication, you should also regularly check your pets for ticks. Look through the fur and feel for that tell-tale raised lump. If you find a tick you should treat with medicated shampoo or a spot-on solution. Make sure you fumigate the area in which your pet sleeps in case any ticks have dropped off or laid eggs. Read the instructions to avoid high toxicity.

Use medicated shampoo to treat ticks
Wash your dog with medicated shampoo

Humans can also catch diseases from ticks, here are some of the more common:

Lyme disease

Found right across Europe, Asia and the US, Lyme disease is perhaps the most common infection in humans from a tick bite.

The longer a tick is in place, the greater the chance of catching Lyme disease. Some ticks, like the black-legged tick, are so small that a person may not realise they are attached. The first sign may be a red and itchy rash where the tick has dropped off.

The earlier a diagnosis is sought, the better the rate of recovery. In the early stages, treatment is generally in the form of antibiotics.

Symptoms include:

  • general lack of energy
  • fever
  • muscle aches
  • headaches

In the later stages, Lyme disease can cause joint pain, muscle pain and neurological symptoms. 

Tick-borne encephalitis (TBE)

A neurological disorder, TBE only causes symptoms in two thirds of infected people. Though most go on to a full recovery, some patients can develop meningitis or encephalitis. It is found across Europe and Asia.

Symptoms include:

  • fever
  • headache
  • lethargy
  • muscle pain
  • nausea

Rocky Mountain spotted fever

Found mainly in the United States, Central, and South America, this disease is caused by bacteria but takes around 20 hours of being embedded in its host before it is transmitted.

Symptoms include:

  • high temperature
  • headache
  • chills
  • muscle aches
  • deliriousness

Tick paralysis

Some tick bites can cause paralysis in children, frail individuals and the elderly.  It is the only disease spread by ticks which is not an infection. Tick saliva contains a neurotoxin which in some people causes paralysis.

Symptoms include:

  • tingling sensation
  • weakness
  • loss of coordination
  • unstable walk

Tularemia

Fatal in around five per cent of cases left untreated, this disease can be found in ticks across Europe, Asia and North America. It can be transmitted by tick bites and other ways.

Symptoms include:

  • headache
  • fever
  • chills
  • aching muscles
  • weight loss
  • difficulty breathing

This is a serious illness and can cause pneumonia, pericarditis, osteomyelitis or meningitis.

How to remove a tick

If you find a tick on your body, then carefully pinch the tick at the head of the mouth with some tweezers and pull gently. Be careful not to leave the head inside the skin. If the head is thoroughly embedded then try rubbing some iodine, paraffin or alcohol on it. The tick should let go of its own accord.

Remember:

  • Use gloves.
  • Wash the surrounding area with soap and water.
  • If you are unable to remove the tick then always seek medical help.
  • Save the removed tick in a sealed container in case any symptoms appear later.

Prevention is better than cure

  • Always wear shirts with long sleeves and trousers when walking in woodlands and grassy areas.
  • Don’t wear open-toed shoes.
  • Wear light-coloured clothing so ticks can easily be seen.
  • Use insect repellent.
  • Tuck your shirt into your trousers.
  • Regularly check your pets for ticks.
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