Painless but Dangerous
Most times when a tick as small as a poppy seed or as large as an apple seed latches onto you and crawls it’s way to a nice soft biteable spot, draws blood and then casually drops off, we aren’t even aware it has happened.
How is it possible that ticks have been able to create this strategy of silent, painless attack? Over the hundreds of millions of years they have been on this earth, ticks have had plenty of time to evolve and develop survival strategies to feed without detection. Time and time again, ticks successfully attach, feed and drop off without the host ever even knowing they were there, until later when symptoms start to surface.
Ticks can easily go undetected and this is how:
First, the tick begins its hunt, usually placing itself on the edge of a piece of grass or brush, arms out, waiting for any kind of person/animal to walk by - this is called questing. As the potential host (you) brushes by the tick latches on. Once onboard it then begins its hunt for blood meal, crawling to a place that is preferably (but not always) soft, dark and cozy. Once the tick has found its bite spot it then injects an anesthetic into the skin at the point of entry. The anesthesia works by interrupting nerve signals in your brain and body preventing your brain from processing pain, therefore, you don’t feel the bite. It then burrows painlessly into the skin with its feeding parts. After they’ve attached they then secrete a cement-like substance with excellent adhesive properties to keep themselves effortlessly in place. This is why when you pull a tick off, often you take a little chunk of skin with it. If undetected, the tick then continues its mission and draws blood until it becomes engorged. When finished, it effortlessly drops off.
It’s all about their saliva and this is why:
During the time the tick is attached, it injects saliva and draws blood in an alternating pattern through the same canal. The secretions from the tick's feeding parts alone can cause skin reactions, such as raised areas, lumps and growths called granulomas. Fever and paralysis (though less common) may also develop after tick bites, occurring mainly in children under 8. If the tick is carrying pathogens (tick-borne diseases) this is the time they start transmission.
Ticks can carry a large variety of tick-borne diseases which, if not caught early, could result in severe, chronic symptoms. Caused by the Borrelia burgdorferi bacterium, Lyme Disease is the most commonly known tick-borne disease, however many of the other pathogens they spread can cause illnesses that are just as, if not more, debilitating and even deadly.
Here are (only) a few of the other ones:
A bacterial disease spread by blacklegged and western blacklegged ticks. Early-stage infection can cause confusion, severe headaches, muscle aches, fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, lack of appetite, coughing, rash, and extreme fatigue. Late-stage infection can cause confusion, seizures, coma, respiratory failure, heart and kidney failure, bleeding, septic shock, and death.
A parasitic infection spread by blacklegged ticks. Infection causes the destruction of red blood cells, leading to anemia and jaundice. Symptoms include headaches, muscle aches, fever, chills, nausea, lack of appetite, extreme fatigue, and other nonspecific flu-like symptoms. Babeiosis can become life-threatening to the elderly, people with weakened immune systems, and other serious health conditions, as well as to those without a spleen. Serious complications can lead to dangerously low blood pressure, anemia, blood clots, bleeding, organ failure, and death.
Though there is debate about whether or not bartonella is transmitted by ticks, it is often reported as a Lyme co-infection and is recognized as a tick-borne disease in dogs. Symptoms may include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, weight loss, sore throat, chills, headache, abdominal pain, rash, swollen lymph nodes, muscle pain, bone pain, skin lesions, and nodular growths. More severe outcomes include eye infections, endocarditis, atypical pneumonia, encephalitis, and lesions, and inflammation of the liver, spleen, and other organs.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever Transmitted by the American dog tick, Rocky Mountain wood tick, and brown dog tick, this bacterial infection causes spotted fever, an infection that may become deadly. Symptoms of this infection include fever, headache, rash, stomach pain, body pain, nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite. Acute infections may lead to various body part amputations, hearing loss, paralysis, mental disability, and death.
Why it is important to learn as much as possible about ticks:
While learning about ticks can be daunting and even overwhelming, remember, whether you know the information or not, the reality of ticks and the implications they carry still exists. It is better to be aware and educate yourself so you can be proactive, instead of reactive, and in turn, protect yourself and your family properly.
- January 2021