Tick bites, Mammalian Meat Allergy and Acute Anaphylaxis

Interesting story on this week’s Catalyst program: Most people remove ticks incorrectly, and by doing so they vastly increase their chances of developing life-threatening allergic reactions.

Tick before and after feeding

Two ticks of the species ixodes holocyclus, picked off koalas in the Koala Hospital in Port Macquarie, New South Wales, Australia. The small tick had not yet started feeding, while the other had probably been at work for a couple of days. The amount of blood inside the larger tick is probably around 5 milli-litres. | By Bjørn Christian Tørrissen [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

NARRATION: It’s an incredible story of scientific detective work with implications for anyone who visits the coast…

Assoc Professor Sheryl van Nunen: We have the highest prevalence in the world.

NARRATION: ..or ever has to remove a tick.

Dr Andrew Ratchford: They are surprised when we tell them that probably the reason is because they’ve been removing the ticks incorrectly.

Dr Jonica Newby: The truth is, if you’ve ever been bitten by a tick you may already have a mild version of MMA and not even realise it.
NARRATION: But it’s not just meat allergy you have to worry about. A growing number of people are becoming allergic to the tick bite itself. And it’s so severe they end up here.

Dr Jonica Newby: Believe it or not, acute life-threatening anaphylaxis to a tick bite is now 25 times as common around here as a severe reaction to a bee sting and it’s a medical emergency.
Dr Andrew Ratchford: People have had bites for 20 years and then all of a sudden this year they’ll come in with an anaphylactic reaction.

Dr Jonica Newby: Bit surprising to them, I imagine. Are people shocked when you explain what it is?

Dr Andrew Ratchford: They are and also shocked when we tell them that probably the reason is because they’ve been removing ticks incorrectly.

Tweezers are tick squeezers – freeze, don’t squeeze (aka Dab, don’t grab)
Also, take more precautions with insect repellents and protective clothing in tick zones.

There’s a lot more information in the full program transcript (or catch the episode on iView).

Categories: education, health, medicine


7 replies

  1. How do you freeze them?

    • It’s described in the full transcript Mindy, but short answer is using one of those freezer wart sprays – have it in your first aid kit in the car maybe, and use it ASAP.

  2. We always put a big dollop of Vasaline over them, which suffocates and kills them so they let go and don’t inject more poison. I believe that was the approved method, last I heard.

  3. I saw that episode and decided I was pretty happy to be living in this tick-free part of the country…

  4. Oh if I read the full transcript I can find it there? Who knew! Thanks Viv, sorry for being lazy. I wonder if the wart spray would work on ticks on pets too? Must ask the vet.

  5. I watched and now I want to go further than angharad : I want to know where the tick plagued areas of the country are. And never live there.
    Had never realised it was such a problem. Watching the woman put on essentially a haz mat suit so she could play in her garden had my eyes wide with horror.
    I was a bit concerned to see the advertising for the product: on one hand, good to tell people; on the other hand, advertising. Whatshername – Jonby has done a bit of advertorialising in her time.
    And dogs! Ye gods, they must suffer.

    • eilish, I believe that there’s more than one brand of the type of wart spray that works by freezing the tick to death, so I don’t think it was really advertorialising.
      Mindy, since these sprays basically just use a gas compressed sufficiently that it exits the nozzle at freezing point, I would expect that they’d be totally safe on dogs – but best to double check with a vet.
      The big thing to remember is that once the damn thing is dead, whether by freezing or Vaseline smothering, just brush it off rather than squeezing it with tweezers to remove.

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