While it is not making headlines nor gaining any traction in public discussions, ticks and the diseases they carry do exist in Texas. While everyone is talking about the record number of mosquitoes this year and the increased potential for West Nile Virus, we’d like to take a moment to remind you of the real risk for dangerous diseases transmitted by ticks in the greater Austin area. The first thing you need to know is what a tick is, what it does, what kinds of ticks are in the Austin area and what these ticks look like.
There are several species of hard ticks that can be found in Texas. Hard ticks are six-legged at the larva stage and eight-legged in the nymph and adult stages. Ticks must eat a blood meal at every life cycle state to survive. Adult ticks are smaller than a quarter of an inch and during the nymph stage can be as small as a grain of coffee. Ticks will feed on the blood of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians and prefer a different host at each life stage, moving up in size as they get bigger/older.
Hard ticks find their host by waiting on the ends of leaves and blades of grass where their target host has left traces of previous travel. When the host brushes by, the tick grabs a hold. This perching & waiting is called questing. Ticks need to stay moist, they will not quest out in the bright sun, they prefer tall shady grass or underbrush. Once they grab on, they will climb upwards looking for a dark hiding spot with thin skin to latch on for a blood meal. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), they even secrete a small amount of saliva that will make it so the host does not feel them latch on. A tick will slowly suck blood for several days. Because of this, you should check for ticks after being in high risk areas. If you spot a tick on you within 24 hours of it climbing aboard you can remove it and have less risk of having transmitted a tick-borne disease.
Once a tick has had its first blood meal during the larva stage it can be a carrier of various tick-borne diseases. The disease is then transmitted when the tick drops off of that host and latches on to a new host — you. The different types of ticks carry different types of pathogens. The hard ticks you can find in the Austin Texas area and the disease they are known to carry are:
Soft ticks are quite a bit different from hard ticks. They are still small and must have a blood meal, but they live in rodent dens and do not quest looking for new hosts. Soft ticks do not feed for days, but less than half an hour. People usually encounter soft ticks in rodent infested cabins and are bitten painlessly and briefly at night when the soft ticks come out for a meal. Most people don’t even know they have ever been bitten. Various ticks from the genus Ornithodoros are carriers of Tick-borne relapsing fever (TBRF) which in the United States is mostly found in the west, southwest and Rocky Mountain region – including Texas.
With Lyme Disease getting to epidemic proportions in the northeast and Midwest, we don’t hear a lot about it here in Texas. But you should know that there have been plenty of cases here, as many as 55 in 2010 with a fluctuation each year. With the exception of STARI, all of the tick-borne illness above can be fatal if left untreated and some are still fatal (though at a smaller rate) even when treated. Watch for flu-like symptoms after being exposed to ticks and call your doctor if you think you may have a tick-borne disease. Lowering your exposure to ticks is your best method of tick-borne disease prevention.
Mosquito Squad of Greater Austin can eliminate 85-90% of the ticks in your yard with our traditional barrier spray and tick tube treatment. Call today 512-717-6606 to find out more.