Ticks are one of the most common types of parasite found not only in the United States, but across the globe. These small, wingless creatures survive by drinking the blood of their host. Once they have had their fill, they will crawl off and wait hidden in grass, trees or bushes for their new meal to wander by.
Tick bites can be very irritating. This is because their saliva contains a toxin that interact with the skin, causing itching and redness. Some ticks have saliva that contains a neurotoxin which targets the central nervous system and causes temporary paralysis. This is a condition known as tick paralysis which can be very serious if the victim’s respiratory function is compromised.
However, not all tick bites are simply irritating. Many ticks carry infectious diseases including Lyme Disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Babesiosis, Ehrlichiosis and Anaplasmosis. Some of these purely affect animals, while others can affect the human members of your family too.
A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found that, during the last 13 years, there have been a significant increase in the number of reported illnesses suffered as a result of mosquito, tick and flea bites. In more than 75% of these cases, tick-borne diseases were to blame with Lyme Disease being by far the most common.
There are believed to be several contributing factors to the rise in the number of tick-borne diseases being reported.
One of the most popular theories behind the increase is climate change. Ticks require three essential environmental elements to survive: warm temperatures, high humidity and plenty of host animals/humans. The high humidity levels are particularly important because ticks are unable to drink water. Instead they use the humidity in the air to stay hydrated.
Climate change is a well-known, but very real phenomenon that is affecting the world today. The planet’s average surface temperature has risen approximately 2°F since the end of the 19th century. While this may not sound like a large increase, the fact is that we are experiencing much warmer temperatures year on year than ever before. NASA states that ‘not only was 2016 the warmest year on record, but eight of the 12 months that make up the year - from January through September, with the exception of June – were the warmest on record for this respective months’.
Rising temperatures and increased rainfall is shown to be contributing to the acceleration of the life cycle of most ticks as well as their ability to spread to areas of the world that may have previously been inhospitable for them.
International travel is also cited as one of the key reasons why tick-borne diseases are on the rise. It is now easier and more affordable to travel abroad than ever before. An increasing number of products and parcels are also being shipped around the world. Despite our best efforts to be vigilant when packing, picking up and transporting a creature as small as a tick is much easier than you might think. Since many types of tick can survive for a reasonable period of time without a host, particularly if they fed before the trip, perhaps it is unsurprising to find that many species are now popping up in areas where they previously did not exist.
Diseases once quarantined in other regions of the world can now arrive in the U.S through luggage or an unsuspecting infected human within hours. If travelling ticks choose to mate with new species in their new environment, further new types of tick can be created, potentially with unique capabilities in terms of carrying disease.
If you would like to find out more about tick-borne diseases, our knowledgeable veterinarians in Richmond VA at Betty Baugh's Animal Clinic would be delighted to assist you. Please contact our vets in Richmond, VA today for further information.