Arachnida, Acarina

ticks_1582602133305

What are Ticks and How to Get Rid of them

Ticks are small parasitic animals which feed on the blood of animals and humans. In Australia, there are about 75 species of ticks, 16 of which are known to feed on humans. The most common tick known for feeding on humans is the Paralysis Tick (Ixodes holocyclus and I. cornuatus). Other common species include the Bush Tick (Haemaphysalis longicornis), Brown Dog Tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus) and Cattle Tick (Boophilus microplus).

While being subject to a tick bite may be an uncomfortable and sometimes disturbing experience, in humans, ticks may also cause a myriad of symptoms and diseases such as rickettsia infections, Queensland tick typhus, Flinders Island and spotted fever. Pets are particularly vulnerable to ticks as they are more likely to be in environments where ticks are known to inhabit. Tick bites on pets may cause illness, disease, paralysis and even death.

Ticks can have severe consequences to human and animal health. To protect ourselves, children and pets, it’s important to control, prevent and monitor for ticks in the garden and in the home.

Description

There are two different types of ticks: soft ticks from the family Argasidae and hard ticks from the family Ixodidae. As soft ticks are rare in Australia, only hard ticks will be further described.

Depending on the age and species, ticks vary in size from less than 1mm and up to 5mm in length. Ticks come in a variety of colours, mostly in shades of browns, reds and yellow. After becoming engorged on blood, the rear section can change colour to white, grey or green-grey.

The body of the tick (idiosoma) is fused and compromises the head and thorax (prosoma); and the abdomen (opisthosoma). The body is shiny, flattened and round, similar to a fingernail. On the upper surface and front region of the body is a rounded plate (scutum) which may partially or completely cover the entire body region. On either side of the scutum are a pair of inconspicuous simple eyes.

Attached to the underside and front region of the body are 4 pairs of legs which are highly flexible and are often seen articulated inwards in the shape of a hook. The legs are often covered in spines to aid in holding on to the host. Ticks cannot jump, however are great at walking, climbing, grasping and falling.

Ticks do not have wings or antennae.

At the front of the body are mouthparts and other appendages (capitulum/gnathosoma). The mouthparts consist of: a central harpoon-like structure (hypostome) with backward facing barbs (denticles) along the shaft; a pair of saw-like appendages (chelicerae); and a pair of finger-like appendages (palps).

Behaviour

Once a tick has found a suitable feeding site on a host animal, the tick uses its chelicerae to saw the host’s skin, before it inserts the hypostome. During feeding, the hypostome sucks out blood and delivers saliva. Saliva may contain anti-coagulants, anti-inflammatory, neurotoxins (paralysis causing protein), ‘glue’ and various other chemicals. Because the hypostome is barbed and secretes a glue-like substance, the tick can feed without the need of hanging on, sometimes for up to two weeks. After engorging themselves on blood, ticks can increase in weight up to 120 times their original body weight. Ticks can survive for many months without food, while some species can survive for many years. Some ticks only feed 3-4 times in their lifetime. Adult male ticks do not feed directly on a host, rather they feed on the engorged body of an adult female.

On humans, ticks are commonly found in the navel/bellybutton, groin, scalp, in head and body hair, behind and in ears, behind the knee and in armpits. On pets, such as cats and dogs, ticks may be found under the collar, inside ears, along gum line and between toes. However, ticks can be found anywhere on the body of humans or pets.

Ticks are attracted to heat, moisture and various other chemicals.

Lifecycle

After feeding and mating on a host, females fall off the host, lay eggs and subsequently die. One female can lay up to several thousand eggs at a time. Eggs are often laid in leaf litter; in the soil; and on areas of dense foliage such as long grass or bushy shrubs.

After 1 week and up to 90 days, eggs hatch into 6 legged larvae (seed-tick). After feeding and shedding skin (moulting), seed-ticks develop into 8 legged nymphs. Nymphs are similar in appearance to adults only smaller and sexually immature. After feeding and moulting, nymphs develop into sexually mature adults.

Some ticks require multiple hosts to move to the next stage of development, such as Bush and Paralysis Ticks (“3-host-ticks”), while others only require only one host (“1-host-tick”) such as Cattle Ticks. 

Most of the tick lifecycle is spent in the immature stage and off the host. While not on a host, ticks can be found in areas that are moist and cool, as ticks are highly prone to drying out. Ticks generally live for 1-3 years, however, some species can live much longer.

Habitat

Ticks feed on the blood of animals and humans.

Ticks prefer cool, moist and humid environments. Ticks are mostly active during the warmer months, however, can be found at anytime of year.

In outdoor areas, ticks can be found:

  • In long grass, up to 50 cm high
  • In the lawn
  • In dense shrubs
  • In leaf litter and mulch
  • In and near bushland areas
  • At the beach
  • In pasture land and on farms
  • Anywhere near animals such as zoos, farms, parks, chicken coups and kennels.
  • Pet houses such as bird cages, dog kennels and chicken coops.

Indoors, ticks can be found:

  • Along and behind skirting boards
  • Around window and door frames
  • Along the edges of rugs and carpets
  • Cupboards
  • Wardrobes
  • Drawers
  • Furniture
  • Skirting boards
  • Floor boards

Ticks can be found in seams, crevices and junctions of fabric items such as:

  • Mattresses
  • Mattress ensembles
  • Bed heads
  • Lounges
  • Cushions
  • Bed linen and sleeping bags
  • Curtains
  • Luggage and backpacks
  • Carpets
  • Clothing
  • Shoes
  • Toys

 

Best Treatment for Ticks

Once ticks have been identified and first aid administered, control juvenile ticks in spring by applying Blitzem! Ant, Flea & Tick Killer. Pour the easy-to-apply sand formulation to an entire area of soil and leaf litter where juvenile ticks are known to inhabit. Ticks may be reintroduced from surrounding areas by host animals. Reapply as necessary. Most of a tick’s life (>90%) is spent in these areas and as such, applying Blitzem! Ant, Flea & Tick Killer is a great way of protecting your family and pets from future bites.

Wash all infested items in the washing machine on hot. To dry, place item in the dryer for at least 30 minutes, or hang outside on a hot, dry and sunny day.

First Aid for humans:

  • Check yourself and especially children for ticks.
  • Check all over the body for ticks especially in the navel/bellybutton, groin, scalp, in head and body hair, behind and in ears, behind the knee and in armpits. Use a magnifying glass to detect immature stages.
  • Avoid scratching.
  • Remove the tick as soon as it has been detected.
  • If allergic, avoid removing the tick yourself and seek urgent medical assistance. Do not leave patient alone. Call triple zero (000) if allergic reaction is observed.
  • To remove the tick, use a pair of pointy-nosed tweezers (or forceps). Firmly, yet gently, hold the tick as close to the skin as possible and slowly use an upwards motion to remove. Do not bend or twist while pulling as this may result in the head being broken off. Do not apply products to the tick prior to removal unless the product is registered for tick removal or otherwise directed by a medical professional.
  • In the event of unsuccessful removal where the head of the tick remains in the skin, seek urgent medical assistance for removal and further treatment. Otherwise, infection may ensue.
  • Once the tick has been removed, kill the tick by squashing between two sheets of paper towel, place into a plastic sealed bag, then put into the rubbish bin.
  • Monitor patient for symptoms and seek urgent medical assistance if symptoms appear and/or linger. 

First aid for pets:

  • If a tick has been detected on a pet, remove tick as soon as possible (see above method of removal).
  • Monitor for symptoms even after the tick has been removed - seek urgent veterinarian assistance if symptoms develop.
  • Remove bedding and wash in the washing machine with hot water, then place in the dryer on hot for 30 minutes. Otherwise, place bedding into a plastic bag, seal the bag well, then place into the rubbish bin.
  • Vacuum dog kennel and place the vacuum bag into a plastic bag, seal well, then put in the rubbish bin. Move kennel out into the sun to help the kennel to warm up and dry out. This will help to dry out any remaining ticks. 

 

Symptoms of Tick damage

Tick infestation cannot be identified based on the symptoms of bites alone. Bites are nearly indistinguishable from other pest attack such as bed bugs, fleas, mosquitoes, spiders and and lice.

Further evidence of tick infestation includes:

  • Living adult ticks - adults may be small or become large after being engorged on blood. Adults are found either on or off the host.
  • Living juvenile ticks - may be as small as a dot. Use a magnifying glass to detect immature stages.
  • Faeces - tiny dots or smear on host’s skin. Faeces may also harbour pathogenic organisms.
  • Eggs - round to oval shaped balls, generally less than 0.3 mm in length and are laid in big clusters. Eggs come in a variety of colours including blacks, browns, reds and greens. Eggs are most often found in the soil and underneath leaf litter.

Symptoms of a tick bite in humans may include:

  • At the site of bite may be redness, swelling, welt or a red ring
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Body aches and pains
  • Fatigue
  • Rash
  • Itchiness
  • Swollen and/or sore glands
  • Walking unsteadily
  • Light sensitivity
  • Weakness
  • Facial paralysis
  • Dermatitis
  • Symptoms such as swollen throat, difficulty breathing and collapsing may indicate an allergic reaction. Call triple zero (000) immediately for urgent medical assistance.
  • Diseases such as rickettsia infections, Queensland tick typhus, Flinders Island and spotted fever. Lyme-disease and Lyme-disease symptoms, however, in Australia, this is yet to be determined.

Symptoms of a tick bite in pets may include:

  • At the site of bite may be redness, swelling, welt or a red ring
  • Paralysis of the legs
  • Change in walking
  • Wobbliness
  • Change in bark or meow
  • Coughing
  • Gurgling
  • Vomiting
  • Gagging
  • Grunting
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Refusing food

How to Prevent Ticks Appearing

Prevent ticks from entering the home:

  • Avoid purchasing second hand furniture, clothing and accessories, otherwise, thoroughly inspect for signs of ticks, prior to bringing into the home.
  • Avoid allowing pets inside the home, otherwise, check pets regularly and protect pets from ticks. Alternatively, keep pets indoors at all times.
  • Reduce entry points to a building: repair holes, cracks and gaps in walls, skirting boards, windows and doors.
  • Ensure flyscreens are fitted and maintained.
  • If possible, cover vents with a fine mesh.
  • Install a door seal or door snake to the bottom of entrance doors.

How to protect you and your family from ticks:

  • While gardening or bushwalking wear a cap, long pants, long socks (tuck pants into socks), long sleeved shirt and closed in toe shoes. Preferably wear white or light-coloured clothing to easily detect ticks where they land. Keep long hair in a bun.
  • Apply an Australian approved insect repellent suitable for the prevention of ticks.
  • After visiting high risk tick areas, check body, hair, clothing shoes, bedding and fabric items such as tents for ticks. Wash clothing and bedding in hot water and place items in the dryer on hot for at least 30 minutes. This will help to kill off any ticks remaining on fabric items.

How to protect your pets from ticks:

  • Check pets for ticks daily.
  • Protect your pets from ticks using veterinary approved tick preventative products such as sprays, collars, shampoos, rinses and medication. Contact your local vet for further information.
  • For animals which can be shaved, keep hair/fur relatively short, as this will aid in the early and quick detection of ticks.
  • Wash bedding regularly. Remove bedding and wash in the washing machine with hot water, then place in the dryer on hot for 30 minutes.
  • Vacuum inside kennels regularly.
  • Ensure dog kennel is a position that is dry and well ventilated and away from vegetation.
  • To stop the spread of ticks, do not allow the pet to go near other animals until the pet has been cleared of infection. Avoid having infected pets inside the home.

Reduce the environment favourable to ticks:

  • Keep turfed areas regularly mown.
  • Ensure weeds are controlled and removed regularly.
  • If backing on to bushland areas, remove weeds and other vegetation in adjacent areas to act as a buffer.
  • Prune and thin garden shrubs to reduce humidity in vegetation. This will not only prevent ticks but will also reduce pathogenic fungal diseases of plants.
  • Avoid having mulch and leaf litter near the home.
  • Avoid having debris around the home such as piles of leaves where ticks are known to inhabit.

Maintain good hygiene in and around the home:

  • Prevent and control rodents in and around the home (link to rodents).
  • Remove bird nests in and around the home.
  • Regularly clean indoor areas including vacuuming along skirting boards, inside cupboards and under furniture. Dispose of vacuumed material into a plastic bag, seal, then dispose of in the rubbish bin.
  • Steam clean fabric furniture and carpets.
  • If moving into a new house, especially when pets were previously living in the residence, thoroughly vacuum and clean the house prior to moving in.

Recommended products to control Ticks


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