What are Ticks?
Ticks belong to the family of spiders (arachnids), an adult tick has 8 legs. Insects have 6 legs and may have wings too. There are over 800 species of ticks known worldwide. Ticks are ectoparasites (living on instead of inside a host). They need to feed on the blood of mammals, birds, and sometimes reptiles and amphibians. Ticks are carriers of a number of diseases that affect both humans and animals. Almost all ticks belong to one of two major families, the Ixodidae or hard ticks, which are difficult to crush, and the Argasidae or soft ticks.
The development of a tick begins when it hatches as Larvae from one of the numerous eggs laid by a female tick. The larvae, with a size less than half a millimeter, is barely recognizable with the naked eye. It sit’s and wait’s until it can transfer to a host, usually a small animal or a bird. After this first blood meal, the larvae leaves its host and molts into a nymph.
The sexless Nymph can spend month or years free-living in the undergrowth waiting again for another host and for another blood meal, after which again it will detach itself from the host. Depending on the tick species it may go through several nymph stages before it molts into a sexually mature adult tick.
The adult tick will again sit and wait for a host. At all, a tick spends most of its live waiting on the ground, in the undergrowth, on shrubs or grasses. The female Adult tick needs the blood of the host to produce up to 3,000 eggs. A full-bodied female tick weighs almost 200 times as much as a hungry tick. To take up so much blood may take the female tick up to 10 days before voluntarily leaving her victim. The male tick can fertilize the eggs of the female without any further blood meal.
Tick Bite – risks when bitten by a tick
The Bite: When a host is found, a tick may walk around for a couple of hours until it finds a bite site. It then cuts through the skin with its jaw claws and anchors its “harpoon-like spike” (the hypostome) into the wound. The small wound cuts capillaries from which blood flows, a tick is a so-called pool feeder. Before taking blood in, the tick releases a saliva secret, which contains several important components.
A coagulation inhibitor, which prevents clogging of the spike (hypostome) and increases blood flow to the puncture site.
A kind of adhesive that firmly anchors the mouth tools in the skin.
An anesthetic that makes the puncture site insensitive.
An anti-inflammatory agent which is intended to avoid stimulation of the body’s immune defense at the injection site.
The blood is then taken up by the tick.
Infection: While feeding blood from its host, the tick regurgitates indigestible food residues into its host at regular intervals. In this process, pathogens which may have been contracted from a previous host and which have been preserved or even multiplied in the tick body can be transferred to a human. the infection does not happen immediately, but the longer an infected tick is feeding, the higher the risk of contracting a tick-transmitted disease becomes. Lyme disease contraction, for example, takes about 6 to 24 hours after the tick bite. Therefore, a fast and careful removal of a tick is urgently recommended.
The development stage of ticks also has an influence on the risk of infection. A tick in the nymph stage contains ten times more pathogen than an adult tick.
Tick-borne diseases are caused by various types of bacteria, viruses, and protozoa. A tick bite may cause more then one disease as ticks can carry several diffent bacteria in their gut. There are soo far 16 known illnesses that ticks may transmit to humans.
Or Lyme borreliosis is the most common tick-transmitted disease. It is caused by bacteria that lingers in the intestine of the tick. An infection is therefore only possible after several hours of suction time. Since there is no vaccination against human borreliosis, the most important prevention is the avoidance of tick bites as well as the immediate removal of the parasites.
If infected a few days, several weeks to a few month may pass from the tick bite to the first symptoms. Since the signs are not clear, but are typical of numerous diseases, a clear diagnosis is often difficult.
Lyme disease symptoms may include:
fever, limb pain, joint pain and inflammation, general exhaustion, a rash, headache, paralysis (especially in the face), circulatory and heart problems, strong pain, dry, aching and thinning skin, etc…
There is currently no vaccination or a special cure for Lyme disease. However, the bacterial infection can be completely healed if antibiotics are used at an early stage. If the disease has already developed into a chronic course, the therapy is much more difficult and not always successful.
This is another form of bacterial disease and the second most common when it comes to infections that are caused by ticks. It is transmitted through black-legged or deer ticks. The bacteria target and infect white blood cells altering the life cycle of these blood cells.
Common symptoms may include
lethargy, lack of appetite, nausea, vomiting, neck pain, joint pain, difficulty in moving, sensitivity to light, etc…
There is no vaccine against human anaplasmosis. Antibiotics are the only form of treatment.
This is a parasitic malaria-like disease caused by Babesia, a microscopic parasite that infects red blood cells. It’s a rare disease and most infections are asymptomatic with only mild flu-like symptoms. Only in very rare instances can it be severe and sometimes fatal. It is transmitted through the deer tick. A major host for the parasite is cattle, the disease is also known as Texas cattle fever.
These symptoms will include tiredness, lack of appetite, muscle ache, chills, and fever. Most patients spontaneously recover. Symptomatic patients will be treated with malaria medication like clindamycin and quinine.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever:
This dangerous disease is transmitted through the Lone star and the American dog tick. It is caused by Rickettsia a parasitic bacteria. When infected, you will feel severely ill and immediate treatment is required.
First symptoms are sudden rising fever, headache, nausea with vomiting, muscle pain and skin rash. Diarrhea and abdominal pain may occur. In early stages the disease is difficult to diagnose since the skin rash becomes visible only about six days after the first symptoms.
The treatment must be started immediately in case of suspicion. Effective antibiotics are doxycycline and chloramphenicol, the latter should only be considered as a reserve because of possible serious side effects. The treatment is continued for at least three days after the fever.
Symptoms of this disease will start one to 21 days after being bitten by an infected lone star or brown dog tick. It’s caused by a parasitic bacteria that will infect and kill white blood cells. Symptoms may include fatigue, headache, muscle aches, fever, vomiting, nausea and in rare cases a skin rash.
Antibiotics such as doxycycline and minocycline are the medications of choice There is no vaccine against ehrlichiosis. Preventing tick bites is the main measure against the disease.
If symptoms occur after a tick bite, a doctor should immediately be consulted. No matter what disease – a fast diagnosis and treatment can prevent severe progression and late effects or at least reduce the risk.