Ticks are insidious pathogens for humans and animals!

ESME – early summer meningoencephalitis (tick paralysis)

For humans and animals, the undoubted carriers of this disease are ticks, in particular hard-bodied (Ixodidae) and soft-bodied (Argasidae) ticks that represent the two largest groups of these arachnids. In addition to causing ESME, they are also responsible for the very common Lyme disease (borreliosis). Especially dogs tend to be infested and infected by these ticks much more often than humans.

After eclosion from the eggs, blood-sucking ticks known as wood ticks develop from larvae into nymphs and then adults. Each development stage calls for nourishment from mammals. As larvae and nymphs, the preferred hosts are small rodents, hedgehogs, and birds. Mice in particular, regardless of whether they are shrews, field mice, or voles, serve as vectors of borreliosis bacteria and the ESME virus. One can conclude that ticks acquire the pathogen in a very early stage of development. They seldom transmit the Lyme disease to humans and animals, and transmission of the ESME virus is quite rare.

After an adult female has its last bloody meal, it mostly lays several thousand eggs and dies. The male wood tick dies immediately after mating.

Ticks thrive about a meter above the ground in foliage and close to the ground on ferns, grasses, shrubs, and in forest undergrowth. They also stay along paths, perimeters, parks, meadows, and gardens, where they tend to lurk for weeks on end awaiting their victims. They become active in spring once the daytime temperature remains above roughly 8 °C.

Typically people, dogs, wild animals, etc. passing by tend to knock off wood ticks from their perch as they lie in wait. About 1 mm in size, the ticks then seek a warm and soft spot on the host’s body. Just before they push in their harpoon-like barbed proboscis (hypostome) to begin sucking blood, the ticks first numb the spot – which is why the victim barely feels the sting. Unless the sucking process is forcibly interrupted, the tick could be at it for days. The longer a tick sucks blood, the greater the risk of disease transmission.

If you or your dog is bitten by a tick, remove it as soon as possible. Here are some dos and don’ts:

Never use home remedies like oils, glues, benzene, alcohol, etc. Instead, use a pair of tweezers to grab the wood tick’s head, as close as possible to the skin prick. Avoid squeezing the tick at all costs – otherwise the tick’s virus containing saliva be injected directly into the bite wound. Now simultaneously twist the tick lightly and pull it out of the skin. Make sure that you remove every piece of the tick – especially the anterior region called the gnathosoma that contains the mouth, specialized feeding appendages, and segmented structures.

Don’t dispose of the tick, because it should be tested for the presence of borrelia!

Now you may disinfect the bite and surrounding area with alcohol.

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Monitor the bite are for at least three weeks after this incident. If you notice a halo-like redness of the dog’s skin around the sting, go immediately to a vet with specialized experience. This could indicate a borrelia infection.

Here are some tips on how you can protect your dog from the risks of a tick bite:

A vaccine against Lyme disease has been on the market for quite some time now, meant for all kinds of dogs including puppies over 12 weeks old. Your pet will need to be vaccinated twice at an interval of three to five weeks. A booster shot is required once a year to maintain immunity.

Use a tick collar: I have found this to be very effective. Personally, I prefer the Kiltix collar from Bayer.

I regularly cook garlic cloves and mix them in the dog food.

I check the dog daily for ticks, and remove any immediately with tick tweezers.

What is borreliosis (Lyme disease)?

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection caused by the pathogen Borrelia burgdorferi. The symptoms are somewhat complex and not always distinct, because they just seem to shift from one to another. This is a very complicated illness, since almost all the bodily organs can be affected. The primary effects are seen on the skin, nervous system, muscles, joints, and the heart.

A few weeks after the infection, a halo-like redness develops on the skin. The center of this is red with a violet colored ring that spreads further across the skin. The redness is painless and not itchy. The dog does, however, get fever of almost 40 °C, clearly becomes sluggish, loses appetite, is very thirsty, and just wants to sleep.

Recommendation: take the dog immediately to a vet!

ESME - early summer meningoencephalitis (tick paralysis)

This form of early summer meningoencephalitis is caused by a virus and is transmitted by ticks in certain regions only, including Central Europe. This illness of the central nervous system seldom affects dogs.

The incubation period for tick paralysis is seven to fourteen days, but could be as long as four weeks in exceptional circumstances. The illness can be very serious and deadly for the dog. Sometimes it manifests itself as muscle aches and the overpowering desire to sleep. As far as I know, no cure has been found so far.

Recommendation: take the dog immediately to a vet!

Hanspeter Kobold

Ibiza: 2002

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