Tick paralysis can be transmitted to mammals by infected ticks (parasites) via saliva. The disease is caused by a neurotoxin which is stored in the parasite's glands and then injected into the blood stream (through its saliva) of the host it is feeding on. The neurotoxin isn’t transmitted quickly - it takes days of attachment, which is why pets should be regularly checked for ticks. Once removed, any symptoms of tick paralysis can sharply fade, however if extreme paralysis is caused and not detected early enough, it can be fatal.
Not all ticks transmit this disease, and if they carry the neurotoxin there is still a chance that it cannot have too much of an adverse effect if the parasite is found and removed quickly. The ticks that are linked closely with paralysis in the USA are the American dog (Dermacentor Variabilis) and Rocky Mountain Wood (Dermacentor Andersoni) ticks. This is named the ‘North American tick paralysis’. In straight talking Australia, the disease is commonly caused by the ‘Tick Paralysis tick’ (Ixodes Holocyclus) on their Eastern coast. However, there have been over 40 species linked worldwide with tick paralysis and it is the pregnant female ticks that carry the toxin.
Symptoms of tick paralysis can vary. In the initial stages, a bite may cause slight irritation but could also show no specific signs. Like other tick-borne diseases, rashes, headaches, fevers, fatigue, weakness of limbs, joint pain, intolerance to light and partial face paralysis could occur. The toxin usually causes symptoms to show within a week. Although cattle are more commonly reported as being killed by the disease (cows and sheep in their thousands), pets and humans can become ill through it, but not as often. Dogs seem more prone to tick paralysis than cats. Symptoms in dogs could be a difficulty breathing and swallowing their food.
Tick Paralysis in Humans
As ticks are often difficult to identify under thick coats/fur it is important that any adverse change in character should be monitored and treatment sought by your veterinarian immediately. Tick paralysis treatment can be applied if caught in the early stages (antitoxins available for pets). Humans should go to the doctor for diagnosis, and remember to tell the physician that you have been near tick-prone areas. By removing the parasite from the skin, it will give a far better chance of recovery; therefore regularly checking your pets for ticks throughout tick season is advisable. However, with all infections and diseases prevention is much better than treatment, so look at ways of avoiding ticks before they strike.
Repellents should be applied to both you and your pets to avoid ticks diseases. Deet should be applied to your skin and Permethrin applied to your clothing. Steering clear of woodland, meadows and other areas where parasites thrive is also a good idea. If you have to enter such areas, wear appropriate clothing that covers your skin. Long pants/trouser tucked into socks and long sleeved tops tucked in at the waist will keep ticks off your body. Light colored clothing will help you see any any that land on you.
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