Ticks are widespread in Australia.
Some Tick Facts
Ticks are parasites that feed on animal and human blood. There are four distinct stages of a tick’s development from eggs to larvae to nymph to adults. Between each stage ticks must have a blood meal. The whole cycle usually takes about a year from egg to adult. It is easy to confuse the different stages of a tick’s development for different species of tick.
There are many species of tick in Australia. The most common tick is the paralysis tick Ixodes Holocyclus, which is found along the coastal strip and inland for about 30 kilometres.
As the majority of the population also lives along the coast, encounters with this tick can be frequent.
Ticks, like many insects, occur in humid, moist bushy areas. Eggs are typically layed in leaf matter or mulch. Ticks are not very mobile but rely on passing animals to both feed on and transport them.
Ticks may appear to drop onto clothing after brushing past bushes or trees or may fall from overhanging branches, especially around clothes lines.
Ticks inject a toxin that may cause local irritation or a mild allergic reaction, however most tick bites cause little or no symptoms. In some cases however ticks can pose a serious threat to human health.
Tick borne diseases, tick paralysis and severe allergic reactions, while uncommon, can pose a serious health threat. Tick-borne diseases occurring in Australia are Australian Tick Typhus or ‘Spotted Fever’ (along the coastal strip of eastern Australia from North Queensland to Victoria) and ‘Flinders Island Spotted Fever’ (in Victoria, Tasmania and Flinders Island in Bass Strait).
Early symptoms of tick paralysis can include rashes, headache, fever, flu like symptoms, tenderness of lymph nodes, unsteady gait, intolerance to bright light, increased weakness of the limbs and partial facial paralysis. At the site of the bite there may be a black scab or eschar.
As the tick engorges on more human blood the tick paralysis symptoms may intensify including after the tick has been removed. Clinical diagnosis is confirmed by specific blood tests.
Tick typhus is treatable with antibiotics, although fatalities have been known to occur.
In some susceptible people tick bite may cause a severe allergic reaction or anaphylactic shock, which can be life threatening. If swelling of the face and throat causes breathing difficulties, seek urgent medical attention.
Lyme disease is caused by a bacterium and has become the most common tick borne disease in the world.
While there is little evidence that Lyme disease is caused by Australian ticks, there may be other germs carried by Australian ticks which can cause an infection similar to Lyme disease.
Lyme disease is more likely to affect travellers when participating in outdoor activities in tick-infested areas where Lyme disease is known to occur.
Lyme disease causes a range of non-specific symptoms including fever, fatigue, headaches, myalgia, arthralgia, muscle and joint pain and sore and swollen lymph glands. These symptoms can occur within days, weeks or months of being bitten. A characteristic skin lesion, erythema migrans, may also appear within 3 to 30 days at the site of the tick bite. Lyme disease can be treated with antibiotics.
Removing a Tick
Remove a tick as soon as possible after locating it. Use fine pointed tweezers and grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible. Gently pull the tick straight out with steady pressure. Avoid squeezing the body of the tick during removal. If you have difficulties seek medical attention. Do not try to kill the tick with methylated spirits or any other chemicals. This will cause the tick to inject more toxins.
Note: In individuals with a history of allergic reactions to tick bites, ticks should be removed as soon as possible, but only by a doctor and where resuscitation facilities are readily available.
Wear appropriate to reduce the likelihood of being bitten by a Tick
Wear appropriate clothing when outdoors in tick areas including long sleeved shirts, long pants tucked into socks and a wide brimmed hat.
Ticks are more easily detected on light coloured clothing. Spray clothes and hats with an insect repellent and wear a repellent that contains DEET or Picaridin.
All clothing should be removed on return from a known tick area and the body searched for ticks especially behind the ears, on the back of the head, groin, armpits and back of knees. Be careful where clothes are placed as they may introduce ticks to inside the house.
Make sure you check children and pets. Many dogs are infested each year and can often die from tick paralysis.
Mow the lawn in the backyard and keep mulch and leaf litter away from the main entrance to the house. Trim shrubs overhanging paths and play areas.