HEALTH

Why You Should Never Ever Pull A Tick Out. Not Even With Tweezers

Also, how to avoid getting bitten in the first place.

02/12/2016 8:28 AM AEDT | Updated 02/12/2016 8:28 AM AEDT
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You can be outdoors this summer and avoid tick bites.

Warm, wet summer weather is ideal for ticks, and pretty much anywhere where there's bush in Australia, you'll find them.

The blood-sucking, indiscriminate biters love to get behind ears, in hairlines and on prowling pets, sometimes causing devastating paralysis.

Advice on how to remove a tick has changed, so read on before the summer season really kicks in.

How should I remove a tick?

You may have grown up pulling the suckers out with tweezers, or even your fingers. But there's new evidence this technique squeezes part of the tick's last meal and saliva into the bite, which can have devastating consequences that we'll get to in a minute.

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Ugh. Gross.

Instead of tweezers, the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy has recently recommended killing an adult tick while it's latched on.

You can do this by freezing it with a wart or skin tag removing pen like Wart-Off.

Or for smaller ticks, they can be killed with over-the-counter scabies cream like Lyclear.

Then, as uncomfortable as it may feel, you need to wait until the dead tick drops off itself.

Does the same go for my pet?

No. While the focus for a human is to remove the tick without squeezing, when it comes to cats and dogs, the you want to get it off as quickly as possible.

In terms of squeezing nasties into the wound, it's not such a concern for animals.

Also, make sure you use a tick treatment and check your animals regularly, feeling for any raised bumps, especially underneath collars.

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Check your animals for ticks regularly, especially if you're on the Eastern Seaboard.

What can you catch from a tick?

In short, there's a lot we don't know about tick-borne illnesses. It's confirmed that people can catch Queensland Tick Typhus and Flinders Island Spotted Fever, which both cause fever, headache, tenderness in lymph nodes and a spotty rash.

Then there's allergic reactions, either to the tick saliva itself, or as a result of the tick bite.

Alpha-Gal mamallian meat allergy is a relatively new condition whereby people who've been bitten by a tick become seriously allergic to red meat for life. Researchers believe that the tick squeezed a bit of it's previous meal -- mammal blood -- into these people's bodies, and the body then categorises it as being poisonous along with tick saliva. This means next time you eat mammal meat like pork or beef, the body recognises it as a problem substance and attacks.

What about Lyme-like diseases?

Many Australians have reported symptoms that look like lyme disease but it's never been found in Australia.

In places like the U.S. lyme disease is caused by a specific bacteria that lives on ticks, and infects people when bitten, causing a range of symptoms from severe fatigue to palsy, seizures and neurological problems like memory loss.

In Australia, people present with these same symptoms after tick bite, but the lyme-causing bacteria has not been found.

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Any unusual rash after a tick bite should be checked out by a doctor.

At the Australia Rickettsial Reference Laboratory in Victoria, research teams are looking for evidence of the bacteria in Australian ticks, as well as other vector-transmitted diseases from ticks, mites and fleas.

Senior scientist John Stenos told The Huffington Post Australia there were a lot of unknowns when it came to ticks and disease.

"There could be quite a number of tick-borne bacterial pathogens out there that we don't even know to look for yet," Stenos told HuffPost Australia.

"We're interested in discovering what's causing Lyme-like disease."

When will we know what this Lyme-like disease is?

At the University of Sydney, professor Eddie Holmes told HuffPost Australia his team was using the most sophisticated tool yet to look at people's RNA (the acid that carries out DNA's instructions) to determine whether they're carrying a pathogen like the bacteria that caused Lyme disease.

"The world 'Lyme' has almost become too emotionally charged," Holmes told HuffPost Australia.

"I'm certain the bacteria that causes lyme disease borrelia burgdorferi does not exist in Australia, but I'm also certain a good proportion of people who say they have it do in fact have a definitive disease.

How to avoid being bitten by a tick

When you go somewhere with ticks, wear long sleeves and pants tucked into socks.

Use insect repellent.

Check yourself after being in tick-prone areas.

Throw the clothes you were wearing in the dryer for 30 minutes to many sure any crawling ticks are dead.

Check yourself and your animals a few hours later.

"Maybe it's a bacteria like Lyme disease but maybe it's a virus.

"I think we have a responsibility to find out what that disease is and the only way we're going to do that is by looking. It's as simple as that."

He and his team have already used the RNA meta-genomics technique to discover 15,000 new viruses.

"We need to find out what the hell this is, and I am very hopeful we'll be able to do it."

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