What You need To Know About Vampire Spiders

May 8, 2012 in Trail Aid by Dark

Picture if you will, you are enjoying a romp on your favourite trail, the sun is just starting to dip low down in the trees tossing a spooky glow on the trail in front of you. The air around you stirs with a sudden chill that brings goosebumps to your entire body, you feel it now something is watching you! You stop for a moment and look around a little crazy eyed and adjust your music, yea that is better so off you go down the trail.

As you cross over a small stream and start-up a small hill it smells your blood and knows you are coming, it starts to move in for the ambush. You lost in la-la land have no clue to what is about to transpire, your music blaring loudly in your ears you move ever so closer to the trap! As you pass a large log it reaches out and grabs on to your leg and off you go with it on your leg like nothing ever happened, the Vampire Spider has hit its mark!

Oh My God!  What About The Children!

Relax and take a deep breath, we are not talking about blood sucking politicians here, that is another type of parasite and a whole other story! what we are talking about is a Arachnida know as a tick, yes ticks are in the spider family for those of you that didn’t know. So let’s learn a little about these blood sucking vampire spiders!

What are ticks?

Ticks are scientifically classified as Arachnida (which includes spiders). The fossil record suggests ticks have been around at least 90 million years. There are over 800 species of ticks throughout the world, but only two families of ticks, Ixodidae (hard ticks) and Argasidae (soft ticks), are known to transmit diseases or illness to humans. Hard ticks have a scutum, or hard plate, on their back while soft ticks do not.

Ticks have a complex life cycle that includes eggs, larvae, nymphs, and adult male and female ticks. The larvae, nymphs, and adults all need blood meals. Usually, the female adult (hard tick) is the one causing the most bites as males usually die after mating. Ticks do not jump or fly. They simply reach out with their legs and grab or crawl onto a host. Although some larvae have preferred hosts, most ticks in the nymph or adult phase will attach a get a blood meal from several different kinds of animals, including humans. Except for a few species of larval ticks, the immature phases (larvae, nymphs) usually are even less selective about where they get a blood meal and are known to bite snakes, amphibians, birds, and mammals.

Larvae are very small (about 1/32 of an inch with six legs), while nymphs are about 1/16-1/8 inch with eight legs and adults about 3/16-1/4 inch with eight legs. Although ticks will die eventually if they do not get a blood meal, many species can survive a year or more without a blood meal. The hard ticks tend to attach and feed for hours to days. Disease transmission usually occurs near the end of a meal, as the tick becomes full of blood. It may take hours before a hard tick transmits pathogens. Soft ticks usually feed for less than one hour. Disease transmission can occur in less than a minute with soft ticks. The bite of some of these soft ticks produces intensely painful reactions.

Ticks are vectors (transmitters) of diseases for humans and animals. Ticks can transmit disease to many hosts; some cause economic harm such as Texas fever (bovine babeiosis) in cattle that can kill up to 90% of yearling cows. Ticks act as vectors when pathogens in their saliva and mouth secretions get into the host’s skin and blood. Ticks were understood to be vectors of disease in the mid-1800s, and as investigative methods improved (microscopes, culture techniques, tissue staining). more information showed the wide variety of diseases that could be transmitted by ticks.

What are tick bite symptoms?

Unfortunately, the tick bite is usually painless and remains that way even after the tick stops the blood meal and falls off of the skin. Later, the bite site may develop itching, burning, redness, and rarely, localized intense pain (some soft tick bites) in some individuals. A few individuals may be sensitive or allergic to tick bites (tick saliva secretions) and develop rash, shortness of breath, swelling, numbness, or paralysis. However, the majority of individuals with tick bites develop no symptoms, and many do not remember getting bitten.

Some immediate symptoms that infrequently or rarely develop during or immediately after a tick bite may be fever, shortness of breath, weakness, vomiting, swelling, weakness or paralysis, headache, confusion, or palpitations. Individuals with these symptoms should be seen immediately by a doctor.

What diseases do ticks transmit (act as vectors) to humans?

Although most tick bites do not transmit pathogens, some bites do. It is not possible to determine if a tick is carrying pathogens visually. The following is a list of all of the major tick-borne diseases, the usual tick vector(s), and the pathogen(s) the tick transmits that may occur in the United States.

  • Rocky Mountain spotted fever — Dermacentor variabilis (American dog tick) and Rocky Mountain wood tick (Dermacentor andersoni) (hard tick) are the primary vectors and occasionally the brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus); Amblyomma cajennense (hard tick) is the vector in countries south of the U.S. — vectors for Rickettsia bacteria
  • Lyme disease — Ixodes species including deer ticks (hard ticks) — vectors for Borrelia species of bacteria
  • Babesiosis — Ixodes species (hard ticks) — vectors for Babesia, a protozoan
  • Ehrlichiosis — Amblyomma americanum or lone star ticks (hard ticks) — vectors for Ehrlichia chaffeensis and Ehrlichia ewingii bacterial species
  • Tick-borne relapsing fever — Ornithodoros moubata or African tick (soft tick) — vectors for Borrelia species of bacteria
  • Tularemia — Dermacentor variabilis (American dog tick) (hard tick) and Amblyomma americanum or lone star tick (hard tick) — vectors for Francisella tularensis bacteria
  • Anaplasmosis (human granulocytic anaplasmosis or HGA) — Ixodes species (hard tick) — vectors for Anaplasma phagocytophilum bacteria
  • Colorado tick fever — Dermacentor andersoni (hard tick) — vectors for Coltivirus, a RNA virus
  • Powassan encephalitis — Ixodes species and Dermacentor andersoni (both hard ticks) — vectors for Powassan encephalitis virus, an RNA arbovirus
  • Q fever — Rhipicephalus sanguineus, Dermacentor andersoni, and Amblyomma americanum (all three are hard ticks) — vectors for Coxiella burnetii, a bacterium
  • Southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI) — Amblyomma americanum or lone star tick (hard tick) — infectious agent not yet identified according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

This list shows that some ticks, for example, Ixodes, can transmit more than one type of pathogenic microbe (virus, bacteria, and protozoa). It is possible to transmit more than one pathogen in a single tick bite, although this rarely occurs. Outbreaks of tick-related illnesses follow seasonal patterns (about April to September in the U.S.) as ticks evolve from larvae to adults.

How is a tick bite treated?

For all tick bites, local cleansing and antibiotic cream may be applied. If the bite area develops itching, preparations containing diphenhydramine (Benadryl) are recommended. These Benadryl compounds can be applied directly to the skin for itching or administered orally by tablets. This is usually the only treatment needed.

However, treatment of the pathogens that the tick may pass to a person depends on other factors, such as the type of tick, length of time of attachment to the host, diseases in the community, and symptoms developed by the patient. Specific treatment is based on the identity of the pathogen transmitted. For example, oral antibiotics may be prescribed for some diseases. With more significant symptoms, antibiotics may need to be given intravenously and the patient may need to be hospitalized. The best approach to treatment is to diagnose which pathogen has been transmitted to the patient (for example, Borrelia species of bacteria) and then use the specific treatment to reduce or kill the pathogen.

How is a tick removed from the skin?

The following is a step-by-step method that is suggested for safe and effective removal of all types of ticks.

  1. Use a small pair of curved forceps or tweezers. Wear some sort of hand protection such as gloves so you don’t spread pathogens from the tick to your hands.
  2. Using the tweezers, carefully flip the tick over onto its back. Grasp the tick firmly with the tweezers as close to the skin as possible. Apply gentle pulling until the tick comes free. Twisting or turning the tick does not make removal easier because the mouthparts are barbed; in fact, such actions may break off the head and mouthparts, thereby increasing the chances for infection.
  3. Once the tick is removed, don’t crush the tick because it may release pathogens. Rinse it down a sink or flush it down a toilet. Consider keeping it in a tightly closed jar or taped to a piece of paper. Show the tick to the doctor if the person bitten become ill after the tick bite.
  4. The area of the bite should leave a small crater or indentation where the head and mouthparts were embedded. If portions of the head or mouthparts remain, they should be removed by a doctor.
  5. After removing the tick, thoroughly cleanse the bite area with soap and water or a mild disinfectant. Observe the area for several days for development of a reaction to the bite, such as a rash or signs of infection. Apply antibiotic cream to the area. Application of an antibiotic to the area may help prevent a local infection but usually does not affect the chance of developing diseases transmitted by the tick.
  6. Remember to wash your hands thoroughly after handling any tick or instruments that touched a tick. Clean and disinfect any instruments that were used.

Other ways to remove ticks, such as using a hot match head or painting the tick with nail polish, gasoline or other materials, are not advised. Such treatments can cause the tick to release more fluids back into the bite and increases the chance to transmit disease before the tick releases itself from the skin.

How are bites from ticks prevented?

Acaricides are chemicals that will kill ticks and mites. Acaricides have been used in high-use, confined areas where ticks might be prevalent, such as yards or deer blinds. Reductions of tick habitats (for example, removal of leaf, litter, tall grasses and brush) have been effective in small-scale trials. Newer methods of control include applying acaricides to animal hosts by using baited tubes, boxes, and feeding stations in areas where infected ticks are endemic (for example, some areas with dense deer populations). Biological control with fungi, parasitic nematodes, and parasitic wasps may also help reduce the tick population. Avoid tick season completely by staying away from outdoor areas where ticks thrive, usually during the months of April through September in the U.S.

The third Web citation below has the CDC recommended methods for outdoor workers (and others) to avoid getting tick bites and is summarized here:

  1. Avoid grassy areas and shrubs where ticks populations may be high and where they reside, waiting to grab a ride on a potential host.
  2. Wear light-colored clothing so ticks can be easily seen, and brush them off.
  3. Tuck pants into boots or socks to avoid ticks crawling up loose pant legs.
  4. Apply insect repellant and use the brands designed to repel ticks. Follow label instructions. Avoid use of DEET-containing repellents on children. Carefully follow instructions and apply some repellents directly to skin and others to clothing. DEET-containing repellents with concentrations of 15% or less may be suitable for children. These should be carefully applied strictly following label directions. Repellents containing permethrins may be applied to clothing but not to skin. In areas that have a high tick population, DEET-containing repellents may need to be reapplied more frequently than for repelling mosquitoes. Follow the package label instructions carefully.
  5. Promptly check yourself, others, and pets if exposed to areas where ticks are likely to be located.

Be sure to treat pets with flea and tick repellents. If ticks are removed from pets, manage them the same way you would remove a tick on a person. Protect yourself from the potential exposures with gloves. People who live in a tick-infested area and have experienced a fever within the last two months should not donate blood. Taking antibiotics for the prevention of Lyme disease is controversial and probably only useful in areas of the country where exposure to deer ticks would be high.