Issue:

Ticks

Ticks are unfortunately common in this area. They can be an irritant and at times a danger to humans, our pets pics of ticsand livestock. There are two main tick species affecting people on the northern rivers.

The bush or grass tick (Haemaphysalis longicornis). This was introduced with cattle and is by far the most common tick here, found in grassland and bushy locations (including urban areas). They affect many species including horses, domestic pets and us! Generally they are an irritant rather than dangerous. A major distinguishing feature of this tick is its reddish brown, oval-shaped body and red legs. The body of adult females can be very dark brown (see pictures from NSW Agriculture Agdex 662, 1976)).

The paralysis tick, (Ixodes holocyclus), is a native species breeding mainly on bandicoots and small marsupials. Pets and people are therefore likely to encounter them in ‘bandicoot country’ such as scrubby farmland and native vegetation, but at times also in some urban areas. As the name implies, paralysis ticks can be dangerous particularly to small pets, but also humans. In Australia, more people die from these ticks than sharks, but very small numbers for both of course. Antivenenes are available. A distinguishing feature of this tick is a more pear-shaped body, which along with the legs, is pale to light grey. Charts with complete sets of pictures like those opposite can be seen at veterinary surgeries.

Life cycles: Like most ticks, our local species have a three-stage life cycle: larva, nymph and adult. Lavae are very small, with bodies under 1mm. The nymphs have 1 to 2mm bodies. Grass tick nymphs are the ones most commonly found on people. Adult females of both species have bodies up to pea size and are sometimes called shellbacks. Peak tick time is spring and early summer, though in wet winters such as this, they start early.

Ticks on people: I spoke to Rhonda West, nurse at Bangalow Medical Centre. She recommends covering an embedded tick with Rid cream for an hour to kill it, then carefully removing with tweezers. “If you don’t have Rid, any insect repellent* should kill the tick,” she said. “Don’t do this if the tick is near the eyes, seek medical advice. Minor swelling and itching is common for up to three days,” she added. “This can be relieved by products such as Stingoes. If the area continues to be inflamed, perhaps forming a scab and you have a temperature, there may be an infection and medical advice should be sought. If at any stage people feel anaphylactic symptoms such as a rash, impaired breathing, wheezing, noisy breathing, drooling, swelling of lips or tongue, dial 000 immediately,” she concluded. (*If not available, I’ve also heard anecdotally that any oily cream will smother and kill ticks. BS).

Ticks on pets: Bangalow veterinarian Megan Kearney offered the following advice: “The key thing for pet owners is to do a thorough daily tick search,” Megan told me. “Remove any ticks straight away with tweezers or special tick removers you can buy at pet shops. Try to get the whole tick including the head, but it is not critical if a little remains.” Megan said to make sure it is a tick (with legs), not a nipple, as most pets don’t like their nipples being yanked! Finally she advises that if a fairly large tick has been removed (especially if identified as a paralysis tick), watch for unusual behaviour in the pet, such as a strange bark or weak hind legs. If such symptoms develop, seek veterinary help quickly as later treatment can be hard and expensive.

Brian Sundstrom

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