Educational Opportunity, or Attack of the Ticks?
Little did I know that our little walk in the field was going to end something reminiscent of Arachnophobia. Despite our routine tick checks during the walk and the thorough inspection upon our return home, I was awoken in the wee hours of the morning by that gentle tickle that sends chills up my spine. Sure enough, it was a tick. And when I turned on the lights, I found three more crawling on my blanket, one on my pillow, one on the wall and one on the floor. After disposing of these and stripping the bed, I uneasily returned to bed. In the morning I was to find several more crawling about on my bed, a few on the floor, three in my son's ear, one in my daughter's hair, one on the baby's pajamas and 17 in the dog's ears.

Not one to waste an educational opportunity, no matter how much it makes me wince, I searched the internet for some information.

In the United States, there are 7 types of hard ticks and five types of soft ticks which are a nuisance, transmit disease or cause paralysis. If it weren't for AIDS, Lyme disease, transmitted by ticks, would be the US' most infectious disease. Ticks are responsible for most arthropod-borne diseases in the US. Worldwide, they are second to the mosquito. They have a four stage life cycle: egg, larva, nymph and adult. Ticks may be found anywhere there are hosts. They like tall grasses, leaf piles and brushy areas. They often climb to the top of a blade of grass, and hold on with their forelegs outstretched, waiting to hitch a ride. This is called questing. Once the prospective host brushes against them, they grab hold and begin immediately to search for a place to feed. They prefer dark, out of the way places such as ears or right on the hair line.

The hypostome, or central mouth part, is shaped like a blunt harpoon. When a tick has found its feeding location, it makes a small hole in the skin with the sharp teeth at the front and inserts the hypostome. The barbs help it hold on. Some even produce a cement like substance to help anchor them further. They cut blood vessels just under the skin to create a pool of blood they suck through the hypostome. They inject an anti-coagulant to keep the blood flowing. Sometimes present in this saliva are disease causing organisms which can cause infection. Some species also inject a neurotoxin so that you cannot feel the bite. In children, this can sometimes lead to paralysis.

The ticks we discovered were all adult American Dog ticks. The vast majority were females (left) but there were a few males (right), as well. The American Dog Tick has a three host cycle. The larvae search out small hosts such as mice or rabbits. The nymphs generally end up with slightly larger hosts and the adults find the largest hosts, including humans. At this last stage, the female will eat for up to six days, engorging herselfto several times her normal size. The male will not eat. He will mate with the female and drop off to die. She will drop off when full and lay up to 4,000 eggs. My daughter is now quite adept at identifying the sex of the ticks as she correctly identified each one as I removed it from the dog's ears. These ticks do not carry Lyme disease, but they are the number one carriers of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.

So now what do I have to look for? According to
Symptoms of RMSF usually begin suddenly. There is a high fever - often 103 degrees Fahrenheit (39 degrees Celsius) to 105 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius) - with chills, muscle aches, and a severe headache. Eyes may become red, muscles may be tender to the touch, and there may be abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, poor appetite, and fatigue.
They may begin 1-14 days after the bite, but usually appear around day 7.

Fairfax County Public Schools Website
Los Angeles County West Vector and Vector Borne Disease Control District
Laboratory for the Diagnosis of Tick Borne Diseases

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