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Parasitic ticks feed on human and animal blood. Ticks thrive in humid, moist bushy areas. Their eggs are typically laid in well mulched, leafy substrates. Ticks are quite immobile and rely on passing animals to transport them at which point they can also obtain a blood meal. Ticks can drop onto clothing from overhanging branches after brushing past bushes or trees. This is also the case around clothes lines where ticks are present
When ticks attack they inject toxin that can cause localised irritation or even a mild allergic reaction, however for some people there are no symptoms. Whilst uncommon, ticks paralysis, disease and severe allergic reactions can pose a serious threat to human health. Tick Typhus, otherwise known as spotted fever, is present right along the east coast of Australia including Tasmania. Whilst spotted fever is treatable with antibiotics, fatalities have been known to occur.
Paralysis ticks are of particular concern and can be found along Australia’s east coast. Whilst their natural hosts are native wildlife such as koalas and possums, they pose a serious threat to pets. The toxin from paralysis ticks attacks the nervous system and symptoms include loss of throat control, vomiting, weakening of the hind legs, which then spreads forward as the toxin’s effects progress and develop into breathing difficulties.
Treatment and Control
The best method of avoiding ticks is to stay away from known tick infested areas. If visiting such an area, light coloured clothing should be worn, as ticks will be much easier to detect. Trousers should be tucked into socks and shirts into pants. An insect repellent containing DEET or Picaridin should be applied, with a cream repellent applied to the skin and a spray repellent to footwear and clothing (note that DEET can damage some synthetic clothing). The repellent should be reapplied every few hours. All clothing should be removed on returning home and placed into a hot dryer for 20 minutes, which will kill any ticks that may still be on the clothing. Note that ticks can wander on the body for some two hours before attaching. This is how they become attached to the head (contrary to popular belief, they do not fall out of trees). The body should thereafter be searched well for ticks, especially behind the ears and on the back of the head. Children and pets should be examined for ticks after visiting bushland areas.
In locations where people live where they contact ticks in their backyard, then strategies can be undertaken to reduce the tick population and thereby minimise exposure. The Paralysis tick is very susceptible to dry conditions and so decreasing soil moisture can lessen their impact. This can be achieve through the reduction of foliage cover, which increases sunlight penetration to the ground, reducing the shrub layer, reducing mulching and watering, and ensuring that the lawn is kept mown low. Bandicoots, the main host of the Paralysis tick, can be kept out of the backyard through the use of animal exclusion fencing. This needs to go below the ground surface by 0.5m so that the animals cannot dig underneath. If ticks continue to be a problem, then insecticide control is an option. Currently the only registered insecticide for the control of the Paralysis tick in NSW is Brigade. Only a licensed pest controller can apply this chemical.