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The best way to remove a tick...

Friday 02 December 3:21 PM

The summer holidays are fast approaching, and many families are considering heading into the bush for camping, walking, picnics and other recreational activities. However, ticks can turn a bush trip dream into a bush trip drama. These little bloodsucking parasites can be a health hazard.

The most important tick in Australia is the Paralysis Tick, Ixodes holocyclus, which causes more than 95% of tick bites in Eastern Australia. Most tick-borne illnesses are due to this species. The Paralysis Tick inhabits the warm, moist environment of the east coast between the Great Dividing Range and the Pacific Ocean. 

The Paralysis Tick is classified as a hard tick, having a hard, flat body, and elongated mouth parts with rows of backward pointing teeth, which make it is hard to dislodge the creature once it gets a grip. Other names commonly used to refer to Paralysis Ticks are grass tick, seed tick, and bush tick.

The life cycle of these ticks takes about 12 months. In the summer, after a meal of blood from a host, the female lays her eggs in the bush. The eggs hatch in autumn, and the larvae, which look like miniature adult ticks, look for hosts to provide their sustenance. After feeding, they leave the host and develop into nymphs in the winter. At this stage, they are slightly larger than the larvae, and the same shape as an adult tick. After feeding on the blood of a host animal, the nymphs mature into adult ticks in the spring. And the cycle starts all over again.

Tick paralysis is caused by a toxin in the tick’s saliva. Symptoms of the toxic effects of tick bite can include unsteadiness, lethargy, visual disturbances, and breathing difficulties. Children and pets are most at risk from the toxic effects. Some people may have allergic reactions ranging from mild, such as itching, to severe, such as anaphylactic shock. In cases of anaphylaxis, seek medical assistance immediately. Milder reactions can usually be treated with cold compresses and soothing creams; however, prolonged scratching may open the skin to a secondary bacterial infection.

Preventing tick bite

At home, avoid moist bushy areas in your garden. Keep lawns mowed, reduce leaf litter, trim low foliage from shrubs, and minimise watering. Further afield, stick to open paths and avoid areas with lots of undergrowth.

Wear protective clothing outdoors – wear a long-sleeved shirt and long pants ticked into socks. Ticks rarely climb higher than 50cm until they are actually on a host, so lower limb protection is particularly important. Wear light-coloured clothing so ticks show up better.

Apply insect repellent containing diethyl-meta-toluamide (DEET) or picaridin to the skin – and also to clothing. Reapply as recommended by the manufacturer.

After returning home from an expedition in the bush, place clothing in a hot dryer for 20 minutes to kill any ticks that may be still there. Check the entire body for any ticks that may have attached themselves. In particular, check behind the ears, and the back of head and neck, especially on children; also, groin, armpits and back of knees.

Removing ticks

Any ticks found on the body should be removed as soon as possible using fine tipped forceps (household tweezers are not fine enough) or fine surgical scissors. Press the skin down around the tick’s embedded mouth part, grip the mouth part firmly, and lift gently and steadily. Avoid squeezing, jerking or twisting the tick. Do not use any irritant chemicals such as methylated spirits or kerosene. Seek medical assistance if the tick cannot be removed, or if the person suffers any symptoms after the tick has been removed.


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