Ticks – how to avoid and remove a tick.
As a first aid trainer I come across a large number of people, who willingly share their stories. Some months ago I remember a student who had just come back from a 4WD trip in which they unfortunately encountered a tick!
Hearing this, I asked the class if they knew how to remove a tick, here are some of the responses:
Solution of Bicarbonate of soda, Alcohol, Diesel (fuel), Methylated spirits, Salt, Vegetable oil, Nail polish remover, Eucalyptus oil, Aerogard / RID and Dog’s urine.
Now I can’t comment on the outcome of some of the above methods, however I can outline the First Aid procedures for the removal of a tick in accordance with the guidelines published by the Australian Resuscitation Council, that we base our training upon. Basically there are two simple methods of removal.
First and probably the most effective is to use a fine curved per of tweezers, and press the points down onto the skin on either side of the front part of the tick, then close the points and lift or lever the tick out intact (Hopefully)! The tick should be removed slowly allowing it to withdraw its mouths parts intact. Apply antiseptic to the area and seek medical attention as required.
The second method commonly use is the ‘lasso’ method, whereby a thin lasso of thread is positioned low around the mouth parts and steady upward traction opposite the direction of entry is applied. Again seek medical attention as required.
Additionally, my friends tell me no matter how careful they are at removing a tick, even minutes after having been bitten, they always get an itchy, weeping lump that last sometimes for days.
Caution – whatever method is used for removal do not grasp the tick’s body as this may result in separating the tick’s body from its mouth, causing toxins enter and infection to occur, in other words this is likely to squeeze the tick’s insides into the wound.
Caution – if the casualty develops a rash, persistent headache, fever, aching joints or has a history of allergy then seek immediate medical attention.
I have never had the pleasure of experiencing a tick, however a number of friends who regularly travel to the outback and beyond, have encountered the little critters. There are apparently around 75 species of ticks throughout Australia, (not all ours some are imported). The most common tick, found is the paralysis tick, Ixodes holocyclus (also call “hard or scrub tick”).They can be found in wet forests and bushy areas right along the east coast of Australia, from Queensland, to the southern tip of Victoria.
Symptoms and signs of having a tick include: local irritation, in the affected area (normally hairy areas, skin clefts and crevices, like ears), lethargy, muscle weakness, especially in children, vision problems and sometimes breathing difficulties.
The life cycle of a tick begins after hatching, and basically has three stages: the first is the ‘larval’ stage, where it is commonly called a grass tick; second stage ‘nymph; and third stage adult (Shell Backs). To pass from one stage to the next a feed from a host is required. Generally the whole process takes twelve months, however climatic conditions and availability of hosts can affect the life cycle. To attract or local a warm blooded host, ticks will climb about 60cm (2 feet – for the old school) up surrounding vegetation and wave their forelegs around in the air. The tick language this is called ‘questing’. A number of friends believe ticks jump out of trees, because they often have to remove them from their scape or back of the neck, however I have found no evidence of this.
The ‘soft tick’ usually attaches to a host only briefly for a quick feed, however the adult (hard shell back), may remain attached for a number of days, and generally needs to be removed. Quite often an adult tick does not complete their attachment and begin feeding until they have been on the host for 3 to 5 hours, maybe this explains them being found in odd places as they find a suitable area to attach. This period is also the best time for detection, therefore preventing illness/paralysis.
Only the female tick bites, in other words if you locate a tick it is most likely a female, as the male tick rarely feeds on a host. Therefore, if you happen to find a male tick (how you are going to know is another story), he is probably just looking for a female. The female will feed until fully engorged with blood, at this time it is considerably larger than in it unfed state (the size of a pea), and is said to be replete (full, satisfied). She will then drop off the host and typically lay somewhere between 2000 to 6000 eggs in leaf matter or mulch! Then they unfortunately die….
Tick season here in Australia is as we enter our warmer months (Spring & Summer), so how do we reduce the likelihood of being bitten?
Wear appropriate clothing when outdoors in tick areas including long sleeved shirts, long pants tucked into socks and maybe a wide brimmed hat. My friends who often go bush said they spray their clothes and hats with an insect repellent and wear a repellent that contains DEET or Picaridin.
When ticks are prevalent, clothes should not be taken into your living space; instead placing them into the spin dryer for up to 20 minutes will generally dehydrate and kill any ticks hanging around. A full body search is required especially behind the ears, on the back of the head, groin, and armpits and back of knees.
Don’t forget to check your pets. Many dogs often die from tick paralysis each year. If you live near scrub or bush mowing grass in the backyard and keeping mulch and leaf litter away from the main entrance to the house will certainly help reduce the likelihood of being bitten by a tick.
Alibi Training Australia and Paul E Milne make every effort to insure that this information is medically accurate and up-to-date. However, the information contained in this article is intended to complement, not substitute for proper medical consultation and care.