This article is intended for customers from all countries other than Germany*
Ticks are small blood-feeding parasites in need of human and animal hosts. Like their closest relatives, spiders, scorpions and mites, they have four pairs of legs and they can’t fly or jump. Therefore, they wait patiently on grass or leaves until a potential host approaches. They then latch onto the unfortunate animal or person and look for a thin area of skin near a small blood vessel.
Some ticks carry bacteria, viruses, protozoa and nematodes, which they may pass on to the host through their bite. Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne illness in the northern hemisphere. Many people don’t notice that they’ve been bitten by a tick, as it’s generally not painful.
Ticks are found all around the world, but they tend to prefer warm and humid climates. The risk of tick bites is the highest in forests, moorland and areas with high grass during the warmer months, when the parasites are the most active.
How Many Different Types of Ticks Are There?
Ticks are divided into two main families: Ixodidae (hard ticks) and Argasidae (soft ticks). Hard ticks have a plate or scutum covering their back. They also have distinctive mouthparts that are visible when viewed from above. Soft ticks don’t have a scutum and appear to have a wrinkled body.
In Europe and the United Kingdom, the species most likely to bite humans is the Ixodes ricinus (sheep tick or castor bean tick). This species feeds on a wide variety of mammals, including humans and dogs, and birds. Although less common, bites from other types of hard ticks are also possible. These include the Ixodes hexagonus (hedgehog tick) and the Ixodes canisuga (fox or badger tick). Another species, the Dermacentor reticulatus (ornate cow tick) can also bite humans, but this has rarely been recorded. It is, however, particularly a risk to dogs, and so is the Rhipicephalus sanguineus (brown dog tick), which is found in warm climates around the world. In the United States, the highest risk for people and pets alike comes from the Ixodes scapularis (deer tick).
Hard ticks have three life stages: larvae, nymph and adult. They require one blood meal during each of these stages in order to survive and moult to the next stage. Adult female hard ticks have to feed one final time before laying a few thousand eggs and then dying. The typical lifespan of each developmental stage is between 8–12 months.
Which Types of Ticks Carry Diseases?
Being bitten by a tick doesn’t mean you’re going to become ill! Not all ticks carry or transmit infections. However, you must certainly see your doctor if you notice a rash on your body shortly after you’ve been bitten, or if you develop flu-like symptoms within weeks of visiting a high-risk area, even if you didn’t find a tick on yourself.
Hard ticks (the sheep tick in Europe and the deer tick in the United States) are the main vectors of Lyme disease. The same species also transmit other illnesses, and co-infections may occur. Less common tick-transmitted diseases include babesiosis, anaplasmosis, rickettsiosis and tick-borne encephalitis (TBE). The ornate cow tick carries canine babesiosis, and the brown dog tick is a vector of several disease-causing pathogens in dogs.
What is Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease is a bacterial illness transmitted through the bite of infected ticks. It’s a multisystem illness, which means it can affect many different organs in various ways. Nicknamed ‘the great imitator’, it shares symptoms with several other diseases, making it quite difficult to diagnose in many cases. It can usually be successfully treated with antibiotics, but the later it is diagnosed, the more difficult it becomes to cure it completely.
Early symptoms of Lyme disease in humans include a circular rash, fever, fatigue and headache. The rash usually begins as a small red area around the tick bite that gradually expands, but it sometimes appears elsewhere on the body. In 20–30% of patients, no rash is observed.
If Lyme disease is left untreated, it may cause more serious symptoms months or even years later when the immune system wakens due to another illness or environmental factors. Symptoms of chronic Lyme disease include joint pain, eye problems, cognitive impairment and heart symptoms.
What Should I Do if I’ve Been Bitten by a Tick?
If you’ve been bitten by a tick, you should remove it as soon as possible using fine-point tweezers. Take hold of it very close to the skin and pull it out slowly and carefully in one piece without twisting it! Then clean the skin around the bite with rubbing alcohol.
Keep the tick in the freezer in a sealed container. In case you develop any symptoms, it may help your doctor assess the probability that you’ve contracted Lyme disease.
You should also arrange a medical appointment if you don’t have a rash, and even if you don’t recall being bitten by a tick at all, if you develop flu-like symptoms after visiting a high-risk area. Make a list of all your symptoms and when you first noticed them to aid any diagnosis. Your doctor will also ask you if you take any medication, vitamins and supplements.