Ticks are a common and often unwelcome inhabitant of Australia’s diverse ecosystems. They belong to two prominent families, Ixodidae (hard ticks) and Argasidae (soft ticks), with around 70 species found throughout the country. They are most prevalent in the warmer and humid coastal regions, such as Queensland and New South Wales, where they thrive in dense, grassy, or bushy environments. The Paralysis tick, Ixodes holocyclus, is arguably the most notorious species because it can cause severe and even fatal paralysis in pets and humans if not promptly removed.
In addition to causing direct health impacts such as paralysis, ticks are also vectors for several diseases in Australia. These include Lyme-like illness (a topic of ongoing debate in the Australian medical community as classic Lyme disease, caused by Borrelia burgdorferi, is not native to Australia), Queensland tick typhus and Flinders Island spotted fever. A significant challenge is a potential for tick bite allergies, with some people developing a meat allergy known as mammalian meat allergy or alpha-gal syndrome after being bitten by certain tick species. For these reasons, tick awareness and prevention are essential, particularly in high-risk areas, during the warmer months when ticks are most active.
Protecting your pets from ticks is essential for their health and preventing ticks from entering your home and potentially biting humans. Here are some ways to keep your pets tick-free:
Remember, no tick prevention method is 100% effective, so regular check-ups and prompt removal of any ticks you find on your pet are always recommended. If you notice changes in your pet’s behaviour or health, such as fever, loss of appetite, weakness, or swollen joints, consult your veterinarian immediately, as these could be signs of a tick-borne illness.
In Australia, the risk of tick paralysis is primarily associated with the Paralysis tick (Ixodes holocyclus), which is found along the country’s eastern coast. This tick injects a neurotoxin into its host while feeding, which can cause paralysis. The risk is exceptionally high in pets, especially dogs and cats, and can be fatal if not treated promptly.
While rare, humans can also be affected by tick paralysis, particularly children, due to their lower body weight. Symptoms usually start with weakness in the lower limbs and unsteadiness, progressing to complete paralysis. In severe cases, this can affect the respiratory muscles leading to respiratory failure.
The risk of tick paralysis is higher during the warmer months (typically from September to February) when ticks are most active and their numbers are higher. However, they can be present all year round. The best prevention against tick paralysis is avoiding tick bites through personal protective measures, regular checking for ticks, and prompt removal of any attached ticks.
If you or your pet develop any unusual symptoms following a tick bite, such as weakness, instability, or difficulty breathing, immediately seek medical or veterinary attention.
Yes, ticks can and do transmit diseases in Australia. Some of the diseases and conditions associated with ticks in Australia include:
Remember that the best way to prevent tick-borne diseases is to avoid tick bites in the first place. If you’ve been bitten by a tick and develop symptoms such as fever, rash, muscle or joint pain, or neurological symptoms, seek medical attention promptly and let your healthcare provider know about your recent tick bite.
Ticks are found in various regions of Australia, with the highest concentration in the warmer and more humid coastal areas. Ticks thrive in moist, bushy, and grassy environments, making the coastal regions of Queensland and New South Wales particularly suitable for them.
The Paralysis tick (Ixodes holocyclus), the most significant tick species for human and pet health in Australia, is commonly found along the eastern coastline of Australia, from North Queensland to Northern Victoria. This species mainly thrives in areas with a dense population of wildlife hosts, such as bandicoots and possums.
The Brown Dog Tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus), which can transmit diseases to dogs, is widely distributed across Australia but is most prevalent in warmer regions, especially those in Western Australia, the Northern Territory, and northern parts of South Australia and Queensland.
The Cattle Tick (Rhipicephalus australis) is of significant concern to the livestock industry and is primarily found in Queensland and the Northern Territory.
However, tick distribution can vary and change due to factors such as climate, host availability, and human activities, and ticks can also be found in other regions of Australia. Always take precautions to avoid tick bites in areas that could be infested.
Knowing how to protect yourself from ticks and tick bites is essential, mainly if you live in or visit an area where ticks are common. Here are several tips to help keep you safe:
Australia is home to approximately 70 species of ticks, and they are classified into two prominent families: Ixodidae (hard ticks) and Argasidae (soft ticks). Not all species are significant to human and animal health, but several are known for their potential impacts.
It’s important to note that while these are some of the more well-known species, there are many other tick species in Australia, some of which are not well-studied and whose potential impacts on humans and animals are not fully known. As such, it’s always best to avoid tick bites whenever possible and seek medical advice.
Prompt and proper tick removal can help prevent the transmission of any pathogens the tick may be carrying. Here are step-by-step instructions for safe tick removal:
Remember, it’s important to seek professional medical help if you’re unsure about the removal or if the tick was engorged, indicating it had been attached for a significant length of time. Also seek medical advice if you cannot remove the entire tick, as mouthparts left in the skin can lead to infection.