Similar to spiders, ticks are tiny arthropods that live in tall grass, leaves of plants and shrubs but they can easily jump onto people and pets in their proximity for a hefty meal of mammalian blood.
There is not much to defining the term “tick bites” because it is quite self explanatory — they are bites sustained by ticks. The term may be simple but there is nothing simple about them! Or, rather, about the saliva that is delivered with such bites.
With the existence of well over 800 known species of ticks, they are all around us and they are potential carriers of a variety of very serious diseases. It is reported that in the United States, ticks are the leading carriers of disease to humans while second only to mosquitoes throughout the world.
Two Distinct Groups of Ticks
Hard Ticks. These types of ticks carry a hard plate on their backs and their feeding sessions can last from a number of hours to several days. The disease which they may carry does not usually get passed onto to their hosts until the end of their feeding. The most common among hard ticks are: American dog tick, wood ticks, deer ticks, and lone star ticks.
Soft Ticks. Soft ticks are more rounded than the hard ticks and they do not carry the same hard plate on their backs. Their feeding time usually last no more than one hour but they transmit whichever disease they carry within the first minute of the feeding. The most common soft ticks that are found in the United States are the pajaroello ticks and the spinose ear ticks.
Symptoms of Tick Bites
There are usually no symptoms when the ticks latch on and begin their feeding. However, once the ticks have completed their meals they fall off and the attacked site may display redness, itching, burning, swelling and, in rare cases, pain.
When disease is transmitted by the tick the initial warning signs may include: flu-like symptoms; numbness of the limbs; skin rashes through the body; mental confusion; overall weakness and lethargy; painful and swollen joints; intense headaches; heart palpitations; shortness of breath and panting; as well as nausea and vomiting.
The Disease Carried and Transmitted by Tick Bites
Ticks and their saliva are guilty of carrying and transmitting diseases such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Lyme disease, Texas fever (a.k.a. babesiosis), ehrlichiosis, tularemia, Colorado tick fever and Powassan (a form of encephalitis).
In addition, the saliva that is delivered at the site of the tick bite may contain neurotoxins which may lead to tick paralysis and/or death due to asphyxiation.
Dealing with Tick Bites
When a tick is discovered, it should be removed as quickly as possible. And such removal process should be approached with much caution or the tick may be provoked to transmit its disease carrying saliva before it originally intended.
The best method to remove a tick is by using tweezers to turn it over on its back and then to pull it straight out. In the likelihood of become ill, it is wise to keep it taped to a piece of paper and, when necessary, to show it to the doctor for a more accurate diagnosis. If the head remains imbedded, it may need to be removed by a medical professional.
The site of the tick bite should be thoroughly cleansed and disinfected and an antibiotic ointment should be applied and, sometimes, a topical antihistamine.
When symptoms are more severe, antibiotics and antihistamines may be administered orally or through IVs and a series of tests may be performed to identify or rule out transmitted tick-borne disease.
Preventing Tick Bites
It is not always possible to prevent tick bites but certain precautions should be taken to reduce their likelihood. It is, therefore, advisable to use a repellent containing DEET; when out of doors, to wear light colored clothing that covers as much of the skin as is possible; and to avoid possible areas where ticks may be present, especially during the months between May and September.