Ticks are parasites that feed on animal and human blood. The 70 species of ticks occurring in Australia fall into two groups: hard ticks and soft ticks. The most frequently encountered tick is the Paralysis Tick, Ixodes holocyclus, which carries tick-borne illnesses. Adult ticks attach to the tips of grass blades and vegetation, and from there transfer themselves to passing animals or humans. Tick bites can cause mild to life-threatening reactions including tick anaphylaxis, mammalian meat allergy and tick paralysis. You can find out more about tick induced allergies at the Tick-induced Allergies Research and Awareness (TiARA) website.
Reduce your risk of tick bite
When spending time outside in the garden or the bush, wear a hat, long-sleeved shirt and long trousers tucked into socks, and apply insect repellent. The Paralysis Tick is most active during periods of high humidity, especially after rain. This is when you should take particular care to avoid tick bites. After being outdoors, check your body thoroughly, particularly behind your ears, scalp, groin, and armpits. Placing unlaundered clothing in a hot dryer for 20 minutes will kill any ticks on your clothes.
How to remove a tick
Do not scratch or disturb the tick (this can cause the tick to inject allergen into you).
Kill the tick in place, where it is attached on your skin:
- For small ticks (larvae and nymphs, 1-2mm in size), apply permethrin cream (available at pharmacies). Wait for the tick to die (1-3 hours) and scrape off.
- For adult ticks (4mm before a blood feed, 10mm after), freeze them with an ether-containing spray (available at pharmacies). Multiple sprays up to 5 times may be required. Wait for the tick to die and it should drop off.
- If the dead tick does not drop off, it may be scraped off or removed using surgical tweezers. Do not compress or squeeze the body of the tick.
Household tweezers can simply squeeze the tick rather than properly removing it. An instructional video for safe removal of ticks is available here by TiARA.
If in doubt about removing a tick or if you experience an adverse reaction, seek urgent medical attention.
Protect your pets from ticks
It is important to conduct regular searches of your pet to ensure they are tick free, particularly after spending time outdoors. If a tick is found it should be removed immediately. Your local veterinarian can show you the best way to remove a tick.
Signs your animal could be suffering from a paralysis tick include:
- breathing difficulties
- wobbly legs and collapse
If the tick is not removed your pet could die from heart or respiratory failure. Get your pet to the vet as soon as possible.