What are ticks and where do they live?
Ticks are blood-feeding parasites that are often found in tall grass where they will wait to attach to a passing host such as humans or dogs. Ticks can be found in most wooded or forested regions throughout the world and will often latch on to shoes or clothes, and then work their way up your clothing until they find a prime piece of exposed skin. When they find exposed skin they will use their cutting mandibles to cut your skin and insert their feeding tube to feed on your blood; often inserting a small amount of natural anaesthetic simultaneously, which is why many people do not remember a tick bite.
Generally the ticks that cause Lyme Disease in the USA carry the Borrelia Burgdorferi bacteria in their gut, whilst in Europe it is often the Borrelia Afzelii; these bacteria cause Lyme disease. Currently research is underway in Australia to isolate exactly the type of tick and the specific bacteria that is causing Lyme disease here (there are at least 14 different types of bacteria that cause Lyme disease identified world wide).
Most of the ticks that infect people with Lyme disease are in the nymph, or immature stage of development and are about the size of a poppy seed, which means that many people do not remember a tick bite.
Ticks have been found on every continent of the earth, except Antarctica. There are certain places in Australia that are known Lyme disease tick hot spots. In New South Wales (NSW), areas such as around Coffs Harbour, in the northern beaches area of Sydney (as well as the Western suburbs of Sydney), and the South Coast of NSW. The LDAA is in the process of mapping instances of Lyme disease and known locations of tick bites that led to Lyme disease & hope to be able to better identify endemic areas of infection in ticks (& humans).
How do you remove ticks?
It is important that ticks are not covered in methylated spirits, rubbing alcohol, bi-carbonate of soda, vaseline, or burnt with a match in an attempt to remove. Such action can induce a tick to release spirochetes and/or other pathogens known to cause Lyme disease and/or Lyme-like Illness into its host's blood stream. For more detailed information on prevention, visit our Prevention page. Briefly though:
- Use fine-point tweezers or a special tick-removing tool. Grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible. If you don’t have tweezers, protect your fingers with a tissue.
- Pull the tick straight out with steady, even pressure. View a Tick's Mouth and why it is so important to pull out the tick correctly.
- Avoid squeezing the tick, breaking it, or allowing any blood to remain on your skin.
- Place the tick in a small plastic bag or vial with blades of grass, leaf, or moist (not wet) piece of tissue.
- Label the bag with your name, date, site of bite and how long tick was attached.
- Have the tick identified and tested by a lab, health department or veterinarian.
- Wash your hands, disinfect the tweezers and bite site.
- Educate yourself about tick-borne diseases and consult a doctor to see if treatment is warranted.
(Thank you to the California Lyme Disease Association for their Tick Bite removal instructions)
Literature review on tick removal methods
Varied recommendations of how to remove ticks can be confusing, this information may be helpful:
2017 Literature review on tick removal methods
Nymph Size Ticks
Nymph size ticks are tricky to remove - the above instructions will not work as they are simply too small. Pittwater City Council and the bush regenerators group (on the northern beaches of Sydney where ticks are pretty endemic) suggest, "mass infestations of small larval or nymph stage ticks are best removed by soaking for 20 minutes in a warm bath with 1 cup of bicarbonate of soda added."