The Upside Down Under
Paralysis tick before and after eating


Ticks are desperately needed in Australia and there’s money in it for sharp-eyed hunters.

Paralysis ticks, also called dog, shell-back or scrub ticks are a serious parasite occurring on the East Coast of Australia. They inject a toxin causing paralysis that can be fatal in domestic animals, both pets and livestock.

Dog with ears infested with ticks
Dog with ears infested with ticks

The toxin can also affect humans.

The mere mention of ticks is a daunting and off-putting subject for many bushwalkers, campers and people undertaking activities in the Australian bush.

The mere mention of ticks can be daunting and off-putting

The bites  are seldom felt at first. They can easily go unnoticed and feed for days until they reach the stage of injecting their salivary toxins. Ticks do not seem to deliberately attach in bodily recesses, rather they tend to be found in such areas because they are less likely to be brushed off.

The clefts behind the ears and a hair covered scalp are common locations. They may also lodge in skin folds and body orifices such as the ears (even as deep as the ear drum), nose and vagina.

Is it any wonder then that tick researchers are always on the lookout for those who can supply the greedy little critters?

A tick burying itself into human flesh
A tick burying itself into human flesh

Casino based veterinarian Ross Sillar is always looking for people interested in collecting unattached adult female paralysis ticks for use in the production of tick antiserum.

Dr Sillars company, Northern Serums, is one of three in Northern NSW that manufactures the paralysis tick antiserum and they are all suffering from a shortage of subjects. Ticks can only be collected in October, November and December. Dr Sillar said ...

"We are running low on antiserum because of a shortage of ticks last year, due to unfavourable conditions in the collecting months with the weather either too dry or too wet."

The ticks are worth $2.50 each and Mr Sillar doesn't just want just a handful, he wants thousands of them.

“We need people who are prepared to spend time and want to make a job out of it,” Dr Sillar said.

For those would-be hunters the period just before storms is ideal for collecting as the insects can feel the air pressure drop. They climb out of the leaf litter and up grass stems to avoid being inundated.

The Hunt Is On...

FEMALE paralysis ticks have a bounty on their heads, currently fetching the premium price upwards of $2 each and some enterprising tickers are earning up to $30,000 a year.

But it's hard yakka being a ticker, crawling through the bush, facing snakes and navigating prickly vines.

Brian, a tick hunter who's been catching them for 20-odd years says...

"It's not easy, and you get ticks all over you,"

"I've been very sick from it. It can paralyse you.

"It's like walking through a shark-infested jungle."

The tick season lasts from September to Christmas and during that time Trev and Brian are out every day they can, using a blanket in the scrub to collect them.

Catching ticks in a blanket
Catching ticks in a blanket

"Sometimes you can pick up 100 or more in one spot if you're lucky," said Brian.

Lismore vet Nick Jones said his father's company required up to 20,000 ticks each year to make the antivenine, and he had heard of some tickers earning up to $30,000 in the four-month season.

Sympyoms of tick bites to watch for in kids

The first confirmed human death due to tick poisoning in Australia was reported in 1912 (Cleland) when a large engorged tick caused flaccid paralysis in a child, progressing to asphyxiation. Headstones at the Cooktown cemetery also reveal how some human deaths were attributed to ticks.

IN the few days following a trip to bush land or exploring outside, keep an eye out for these symptoms in kids:

  • Rash (circular or spotted)
  • flu like symptoms,
  • lethargy,
  • breathing difficulties,
  • migraine,
  • tremors,
  • memory loss,
  • dizziness
  • poor cognition
  • stiff neck
  • muscle ache
  • fever
  • localised “burning”
Ticks can be dangerous
Ticks can be dangerous for kids

Some observations from Dr Rob Pitt MBBS FRACP FACEM, Director Paediatric Emergency Medicine, Mater Childrens Hospital in Brisbane:

"We probably see a couple [of children with tick paralysis] a year in the Emergency Department but would only need to ventilate every second year or so. We seem to have had increased numbers in SE Qld this summer.

We suspect paralysis in any child exhibiting unusual neurological signs because the presentation is so varied and often difficult to explain in conventional neurological terms. I have had children present with unilateral dilated pupil when the tick was between the shoulder blades.

Cranial nerve palsy is the most common neurological sign. Progressive weakness starting in the legs can develop over 18 to 36 hours with clumsiness and slurred speech. .....

...Recovery can take many weeks for these severely affected children. In population health terms, tick envenomation is a far greater medical problem for children than snake or spider bite."

How to remove a tick

Some methods of tick removal include:

  • Smother the tick and site in Vaseline and apply a band aid to suffocate the tick out;
  • Tie a granny knot in a length of cotton or fishing line, fasten the loop around the tick
    and ‘lasso’ it out;
  • Twist anti-clockwise with tweezers and ‘screw’ the offender out;
  • Flip the tick upside down and fold it backwards out of the skin;
  • Roll the tick’s body anticlockwise over the skin around its own mouthparts until it detaches;
  • Apply methylated spirits to kill the tick before removal;
  • Use a hot match to kill the tick before removal;
  • Thumb and forefinger pincer removal technique, and
  • Use a dedicated removal tool (of which there are many on the market).
Tick Removal
Removing a tick with tweezers


Warning to Parents – Outbreak of ticks in Australia

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