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Bugs That Bite

janinerSat, 20/07/2013 - 3:27pm

North Arm Cove is a lovely spot to spend some time, but it is also home to some annoying biting critters, some of which carry nasty diseases. This is the first article in a series about Ticks, Mossies and Other Nasties.


Attacks by ticks can have various adverse effects on your health, and can be deadly for cats and dogs. The main enemy is the paralysis tick (Ixodes holocyclus) but there are many other varieties.

 The life cycle of the tick is egg, larvae, nymph and adult. The female tick may lay up to 3000eggs which hatch in 40 to 60 days. The adult has four pairs of legs and the larvae have three. When the larvae emerge from their eggs, they are less than1mm long and are often called grass or seed ticks. An engorged adult tick is about the size of a watermelon seed.

The tick has sharp barbs on its mouth parts which it uses to attach itself whilst feeding. It releases toxic substances from its salivary glands which prevent coagulation of the blood. The tick toxin can cause paralysis and create a welt like inflamed area with intense irritation. In addition, the toxin can carry disease causing bacteria. The tick does not burrow into the skin but because of localised swelling appears to be embedded.

Some health issues associated with tick bites include:

  • Allergic reactions including itching, rash, facial swelling, and difficulty breathing. If severe, seek urgent medical advice.
  • Tick typhus or spotted fever. This is caused by a bacterium called Rickettsia australis. Symptoms include fever, muscle or joint pain, headache, sore throat, cough, conjunctivitis, intolerance to bright light and neck stiffness.  There may be a generalised rash for up to 12 days after the tick bite and there may be a scab at the site of the bite.
  • Lyme borreliosis. There is controversy as to whether this bacterial infection can be caught from Australian ticks. If you experience any unusual symptoms after being bitten by a tick (flu like symptoms, fever, headache, muscle or joint pain, unusual fatigue, swollen glands, rash, conjunctivitis), consult a doctor. Appropriate antibiotic treatment can prevent the early infection from turning into a chronic or recurrent illness.

The Tick Alert Group Support Inc (TAGS) provides advice on tick removal. If bitten by a tick, the following instructions may be useful:

  • Remove the tick as soon as possible
  • Use fine point tweezers or a tick remover
  • Grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible without squeezing the body
  • Pull the tick out with steady pressure
  • If you have difficulty, seek medical advice
  • Wash your hands and disinfect the bite and the tweezers
  • Do not kill the tick with methylated spirits, kerosene or any other chemicals
  • Save the tick in a glass jar with moist paper or some grass in case identification is later required
  • If you become ill in the next few weeks, seek medical advice and let the doctor know about the tick bite.
  • Multiple tick bites by tiny grass ticks are best removed if you soak in a bath for 30 minutes  with 1 cup bicarb soda added.
  • For more information contact TAGS, PO Box 95, Mona Vale NSW, 1660 or www.tickalert.org.au

Pets are also affected by ticks. The toxin affects the central nervous system in pets and can quickly lead to paralysis and death. Prevention is the best cure and there are several products on the market to help prevent tick bites on dogs. We use a tick collar, which is supposed to be active for 2 months, combined with a chemical flea/tick control product administered to the fur on the back of the neck every fortnight. We also do a tick check every night.

Cats are not as easy. There are several products which prevent flea infestation but do not necessarily stop ticks as effectively as the products designed for dogs. Cats should ideally be kept inside, and if not, inspected every day for ticks.

Some control of ticks can be achieved by excluding bandicoots, kangaroos and possums from well used garden areas and by keeping excess vegetation trimmed and lawns mown. Ticks do not jump on a host, they just adhere to something that brushes by them. Light coloured clothing makes it easier to spot the ticks. Spray your clothes and body with a personal repellent that states that the product is effective against ticks.

The above information is of a general nature and has been mostly sourced from TAGS and also from an article written for the Cove News by Bob Griffin in October 2002. For expert advice, contact your doctor, or in the case of pets, your local vet.

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