Ticks- Myths, Facts and More

Ticks- Myths, Facts and More

Everyone pretty much understands that the mosquito is the leading transmitter of disease to humans in the United States. Interesting enough, the tick is number two.

Like the chigger the tick is an arachnid- it has eight legs. There are over 100,000 identified species of arachnids world wide and more than 800 tick species. A chigger bites and feeds on tissue dissolved by its saliva. The tick feeds on blood. Toxins in the tick’s saliva are the cause of numerous diseases.

Kinds of Ticks
Ticks are separated into two groups, hard ticks and soft ticks. Hard ticks like the American Dog Tick, the Wood Tick and the Deer Tick have a hard plate on their back and look like a flat seed. These ticks usually attach to the host and over an extended period (several hours or days). Transmission of diseases generally occurs toward the end of the feeding period.

Soft ticks do not have the hard shell to define them and look like a raisin. Soft ticks feed for a much shorter period of time, sometimes less than an hour. Diseases are transmitted much faster. The Common Fowl Tick and Relapsing Fever Tick are two common species of soft tick. Soft ticks prefer hosts such as bats and chickens.

How do Ticks Feed?
How do ticks find a host? Most of the time ticks lie in the tall grass and brush waiting for a host (dog, rabbit, or Scout) to pass by. Ticks sense movement in the grass or odors or carbon dioxide changes in their area. Once an appropriate host passes, the tick attaches itself. Ticks do not fly and they can not run or jump- they have to grab on. They then crawl along until they find an appropriate place to bite.

Once the tick finds an appropriate location, the tick uses its mouth parts to burrow into the skin. The mouthparts have barbs which helps the tick secure itself to the host. Once attached the tick secrets a cementing material that provides a stronger anchor for its head. The tick then secrets saliva which contains a neurotoxin. This deadens the nerves and prevents the host from sensing the tick bite. The saliva also contains a blood thinner which makes it easier to ingest blood.

Removing a Tick
Many of the folk lore methods for removing a tick can actually increase the chance of disease transmission. Touching the tick’s tail with a hot match. Painting the tick with clear nail polish. Covering the tick in petroleum jelly or dabbing gasoline on the tick. All of these methods may cause more serious damage to the host because they stimulate the tick’s mouth to chew and secrete more saliva.

The goal is to remove the tick’s head and mouth parts. First find a pair of tweezers. Removing the tick with your fingers provides another opportunity to spread infection. Some methods recommend flipping the tick on its back to provide a better angle to the mouth and head. Others suggest simply grasping the tick with the tweezers as close to the skin as possible. Without any twisting or turning motions, pull the tick straight out. The tick may be flushed down the toilet or washed down the sink. It might also be preserved in a glass jar to show to the doctor in case symptoms occur. When the tick is removed, there should be an indention where the mouth and head were. If these parts are still imbedded in the skin, a physician might need to remove them. Wash the area with soap and water.

What Are the Symptoms of a Tick Bite?
Because of the neurotoxin in the bite, the host usually doesn’t feel the initial bite. If the tick falls off, the host might not realize that he has been bitten. That is why it is important to understand the symptoms of tick bites.

    General flu like symptoms
    Rash- especially a red bull’s eye rash (Lyme disease)
    Headache or Confusion
    Numbness or weakness in the limbs
    Shortness of breath

If these symptoms continue or worsen, seek the aid of a physician. Let him know that you have been an area where you might have been exposed to ticks.

Avoid Tick Bites
By following these steps you can help avoid getting bitten by ticks:

    Avoid tall grassy areas as much as possible.
    At home, keep lawns neatly trimmed.
    Wear long pants and long sleeves. Keep the pants tucked into the boots.
    Wear lighter colored clothes. This makes it easier to spot ticks on your clothing.
    Use Insect repellant with DEET.
    Spray clothing with permethrin before going into tick infested areas. This treatment keeps ticks away and usually last through several washings of the clothes.
    When returning to home, shake out all clothing. Examine yourself and others for ticks and take a shower. Feel for ticks in your hair while shampooing.

We could avoid a lot of tick bites if we stayed out of the woods when they are not active (May through September). Since these are the primary camping months, we just need to learn how to prevent getting bitten by ticks and how to treat tick bites if we are bitten. For interesting facts on chiggers, see the link below.

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