Ticks – the dreaded summer bogeymen can transmit a variety of diseases
Ticks haunt us specifically during the summer. The less we know about them, the more we fear them. We stress about ticks during the holidays on our trips to the countryside. We buy and use repellents, monitor milk products – ticks present a problem for us. They inhabit places with grass – forest fields, forest trails and damp valleys, but they are also getting into cities.
These parasitic arthropods literally drink our blood. Out of the 713 known tick species, only 17 inhabit Slovakia. We divide them into nest-burrow ticks (80%) that live in burrows and nests of birds and mammals (hedgehogs, foxes, bats..) and pasture, external ticks (20%) that live on pasture lands or in forests and are active during various times of the year, living off of a wide range of hosts.
Epidemiologically important genera of ticks in Slovakia (color matters)
The mouthparts of ticks consist of paired segmented palpi, scissor-like pincers (chelicerae) that can pierce through skin, toothed fixation organs and hypostomes. Ticks can move “soundlessly” thanks to their membranous suction cups (cushion). Before they painlessly pierce through skin and release antihistamine (so that the wound they create won’t itch), ticks make the place of puncture insensible (anesthetics).
The substances contained in the saliva of ticks make blood capillaries expand, accelerate blood flow and block the immune system. Ticks stick to us using their cement glands and attach themselves to our skin. At first they only “sip” our blood, later they start sucking. Females have long hypostomes that sink deep into our skin. Nymphs have short hypostomes, so they attach shallowly. First, ticks use their saliva to “dissolve” cement, then they release hypostomes and fall off their hosts bodies to the external environment.
Common tick (Ixodes ricinus) is a type of parasite that feeds on the blood of animals and humans. It is dangerous in that it can transmit various diseases. For men, the most dangerous diseases are tick-borne encephalitis and Lyme borreliosis. Less frequently occurring diseases (local) are: anaplasmosis, tularemia, Q fever and Tibo.
Tick-borne encephalitis is a viral inflammation of the brain and meninges. We can protect ourselves from this inflammation with vaccines. There are bioactive molecules in the saliva of ticks to which host organisms produce antibodies – these molecules are isolated, analyzed and used for vaccine production. Mice immunized with the tick saliva become resistant to the inflammation.
There is no preventive vaccine for Lyme borreliosis. Antibiotics (tetracycline, cephalosporins, 3rd gen.) are effective against the disease. Transmission of borrelia tick saliva starts after 24 hours. Ticks do not attack just anyone: 20% of people have never had a tick, 65% rarely and 15% have a tick at least once a year. 2-10 times more often, ticks attach themselves to boys rather than girls.
Individual protection against ticks: use repellents and check your body after spending time in a forest
Safely remove a tick: females (and nymphs) can be removed using special or ordinary tweezers. Grab the tick as close to the skin as possible. First rotate half a turn to each side, and then slowly pull in a rocking motion perpendicularly to the skin. Make sure that the entire body is removed. Disinfect the wound, best with a tincture of iodine. If the tick is attached to an accessible body part, try to remove it yourself or seek help.
Not recommended: if the tick is rotated around its axis more than once, or swirled under a swab, it may “break” and a part of its hypostome – “clinch” will stay under the skin. The hypostome will encapsulate itself under the skin. We should always remember, “It is better for a tick to be drawn, not rotated.”
Tick myths: we do not put oil or lotion on a tick, because its air holes can get clogged and it will choke and salivate into the wound, increasing the risk of an infection. We do not rotate a tick, or else the hypostome will be left under the skin after removal.Rotating the tick clockwise or counterclockwise is a myth. Ticks do not have a threaded hypostome, they have curved teeth in two rows.
The topic of ticks was on the agenda of the Science in the CENTRE café on June 30, 2016 at 5pm at the Slovak Center for Scientific Information (SCSTI) in Bratislava. A prominent Slovak scientist – biologist, renowned parasitologist doc. MVDr. Branislav Peťko, DrSc. From the Institute of Parasitology carried out a presentation called The Dreaded Summer Bogeymen – ticks. After his comprehensive science presentation, a broad debate was started. Several participants of the event asked questions concerning Slovak ticks, localities and seasons, diseases ticks transmit, but also about personal experiences with the removal of ticks.
Doc. MVDr. Branislav Peťko, DrSc., studied at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Košice (1971-1977) and completed his scientific preparation at the Helminthological Institute of the SAS (today’s Institute of Parasitology). From 1978-1989, he worked in the Military Veterinary postgraduate research institute in Košice. From April 1989 to present, he has been working at the Institute of Parasitology of the SAS in Košice. He gained practical experience during his stays at the Institute of Tropical Medicine and Parasitology (1992) and at the Bavarian National Reference Laboratory for Lyme disease at the University of Munich in Germany (1994). From 2007 to 2015, he was the director of the Parasitology Institute of the SAS, where he is currently the head of the Unit of vector-borne diseases. He has had extensive publishing activities and won the Slovak Academy of Sciences Award (2008,2011) for the popularization of science.
Compiled using the lecture and presentation: Marta Bartošovičová, NCP S&T, SCSTI
Photo: Marián Zelenák, NCP S&T SCSTI
The illustrational pictures are from the presentation of doc. B. Peťka
Published by: ZVČ
Translation: Dorota Jagnešáková
This popularizing lecture about ticks was a part of the European Researcher's Night 2016, where the main program will be held on September 30, 2016.Back to top