12 Sep 2017

Can a tick make you sick?

Ticks are small eight legged parasites that feed on animal and human blood. This picture shows a tick and then an engorged tick.

The most significant tick in Australia is the paralysis tick and is found along a 20km wide band along the eastern seaboard and possibly into Tasmania. This tick is most active during periods of high humidity, especially after rain, and this is when you should take particular care to avoid tick bites, but you can be bitten all year round.

Paralysis ticks rely on passing animals/humans to feed on their blood. They climb up along stems of grass or low branches but do not drop from trees. Once on a person they generally move up the body and attach to the neck, head or scalp. It attaches by piercing its mouth into the skin and feeds on our blood. We are only bitten by female ticks!

Most tick bites do not cause problems except for minor irritation and redness at the site but some bites can cause tick disease, tick paralysis or allergy.

Tick Paralysis is more common in children and causes headaches, rash, flu like symptoms, unsteady walk and partial facial paralysis. These symptoms develop over days and recovery is slow.

Tick typhus is an infection that can develop and is treated with antibiotics. Other serious illnesses, such as a Lyme disease-like syndrome, may be caused by exposure to Australian ticks, however there is no evidence yet this is the case.

Tick allergy/anaphylaxis can cause swelling of the throat, breathing difficulties and collapse. It is important to note people who suffer an anaphylactic reaction to a tick only do so when the tick is disturbed.

So how do you remove a tick?

Well the latest advice from experts is FREEZE IT; DON’T SQUEEZE IT

If you use household tweezers or a hook like tool then the tick can inject more saliva which is potentially infectious, meaning you could pick up a disease from the tick, become allergic to the tick or you could develop an allergy to meat. Do not reach for Methylated spirits, Kerosene, needles or lit matches!

ASCIA (the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy) recommend that you freeze the adult tick using Wart Off Freeze, or Elastoplast Cold Spray as these products contain ether. The tick can be left in place and will drop off within 24 hours usually, taking care not to press or squeeze it in the meantime. Then wash the area with an antiseptic or soap and water. If the tick has to be removed once frozen, you could use a fine toothed surgical tweezers. Grip close to the mouth and pull up in one motion.

People who have anaphylaxis (severe life threatening allergy) to ticks should always carry an Epipen.

Small larvae or nymphs can be treated by using a permethrin cream (e.g. Lyclear) from the chemist. DAB IT, DON’T GRAB IT!

Watch this YouTube video on how to remove ticks from Assoc Prof Sheryl Van Nunen (Royal North Shore Hospital). Dr Van Nunen was the first to describe the association between tick bites and meat anaphylaxis:

Mammalian Meat Allergy (MMA) is becoming more common and was first discovered in Australia in 2008. MMA is an allergy to meat and sometimes dairy and gelatine, caused by being sensitised earlier to tick bites. Australia has the highest rate of MMA in the world.

Imagine this scenario – a tick bites a possum and part of a sugar molecule from the possum gets into the gut of the tick. The tick then bites a person in October – Harry – and may transmit this molecule to Harry. Now in most cases where ticks bite a person nothing happens but for some reason not fully understood this particular Harry can develop an allergy to meat 1-6 months after the tick bite. This particular Harry may eat his dinner as usual the following March – meat and veg – and then 2-10 hours later as the meat is being digested he suddenly develops symptoms –

  • stomach pains
  • generalised itching and feeling of warmth
  • shortness of breath, wheeze, feeling of impending doom
  • tightening of the throat and collapse

Dial 000 and give Epipen(s) if available.

Treatment of mammalian meat allergy MMA involves total avoidance of meat from mammals (e.g. pork, beef, lamb, veal, goat, rabbit, kangaroo etc. but NOT seafood or chicken). People with MMA may also react to gelatine and mammalian milk so those will need to avoid foods and products containing gelatine like marshmallows, stock cubes, jam, yogurt as well as some medical products. It is best to consult an allergy specialist and a dietitian experienced in MMA regarding what is safe to eat or use. You would also carry an Epipen.

Prevention of tick bites from ASCIA website

Do not scratch anything you can’t see if you live in a tick-endemic area

  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long trousers when walking in areas where ticks occur;
  • Tuck shirt into trousers;
  • Tuck trouser legs into long socks;
  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat;
  • Wear light-coloured clothes, which makes it easier to see ticks;
  • Brush clothing before coming inside to remove ticks;
  • Undress and check for ticks daily, checking carefully in the neck and scalp;
  • An insect repellent may help, particularly ones containing DEET (e.g. RID®, Tropical RID®, Tropical Aerogard®, Bushmans®);
  • Consider using permethrin-treated clothing when exposed to tick habitat (e.g. gardening in tick endemic areas).

If you have any questions or concerns feel free to email me mbates@newington.nsw.edu.au


Sister Margaret Bates
College Nurse


200 Stanmore Road
Stanmore NSW 2048
+61 2 9568 9333


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