Australia's wet season has led to increased concern over flea and tick bites for humans and animals. To help mitigate any potential risks and concerns over these creepy crawlies, we've put together a guide on what to keep eye out for and what to do in the event of a flea or tick bite.

If you need support or just someone to talk to, our Sonder support team is available to chat at any time.

What are ticks?

Ticks are parasites that feed on animal and human blood, and are often found in humid, moist, and bushy areas. While ticks are not very mobile, they rely on passing from animals or humans for feeding and transporting.

They are known to inject toxins that cause local or mild irritation, and in some more serious cases carry borne diseases, tick paralysis, and severe allergic reactions. However, the majority of tick bites cause little to no symptoms.

Symptoms and treatment for tick bites

The clearest and most common sign of a tick bite (aside from the tick being stuck to you) is the redness and swelling around the tick bite. This is due to the tick feeding on you. Don't worry, the redness and swelling will disappear as soon as the tick has been removed.

This is what a tick bite looks like:

Tick bites can lead to an allergic reaction and this can include symptoms such as:

  • Swollen throat

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Physical collapse

In more serious cases, tick paralysis may occur. Symptoms include:

  • Rash

  • Headache

  • Fever

  • Flu-like symptoms

  • Sore glands

  • Unsteady walking

  • Intolerance of bright lights

  • Weak limbs

  • Paralysis of face

Tick bites can sometimes cause other illnesses such as rickettsia infections, Queensland tick typhus, Flinders Island spotted fever, and Lyme disease or Lyme disease-like conditions. However, whether these are linked to a tick-born illness in Australia is still unknown.

See a doctor if you have had a tick bite and you experience any of the following symptoms for more than a week:

  • Flu-like symptoms

  • A new rash

  • Joint pain

  • Tiredness

If you are allergic to ticks you need to seek medical attention from a doctor IMMEDIATELY After the removal of the tick, continue monitoring for symptoms of other illnesses which can include allergies to meat and products containing gelatin.

How to remove ticks

The first thing to do is identify what ticks are. They're often very small and look like a black dot. If you have been outdoors and have an itch, refrain from scratching it and look at the area first. If you are NOT allergic to ticks you may be able to safely remove the tick as soon as possible and keep an eye out for any symptoms of tick-related illnesses.

To remove a tick, follow these steps:

  1. Firstly, kill the tick by spraying it with a product that contains ether.

  2. Hold the ether-containing spray about 1cm above the tick and spray the tick 5 times. The tick should then die and drop off in about 5 minutes.

  3. After a few minutes, check to see if the tick is still moving its legs, by using a magnifying glass. If the ticks' legs are not moving it is dead. If you do not have a magnifying glass or the tick isn’t dead, spray the tick 5 times again. If the tick does not drop off, or you can’t freeze the tick, leave the tick in place and seek urgent medical assistance to remove the tick.

  4. Never jerk or twist the tick. Do not use methylated spirits, kerosene, petroleum jelly, nail polish, oil, or alcohol, or use a lighted match. These do not work and may cause the tick to burrow deeper into your skin.

Go see a doctor if you're not sure about your condition or for any of the following reasons when removing a tick:

  • If you can't remove a tick properly and part of it is still left in your skin

  • Increasing pain, swelling, and redness

  • Red streaks leading from the area

  • Pus from the bite site

  • Fever

How to prevent ticks

To prevent the risk of getting ticks, be aware of known areas for ticks. These areas include:

  • Grassy, bushy or wooded areas

  • On animals

  • Camping or gardening

Although ticks tend to stay low to the ground while in areas with tall grass or bushes, they can sometimes be transported by windy conditions. After being outdoors, make sure you:

  • Always check clothing for ticks

  • Check body areas including:

    • Under the arms

    • In and around the ears

    • Inside belly button

    • Back of the knees

    • In and around the hair

    • Between the legs

    • Around the waist

  • Examine bags and pets after walks.

Regular tick prevention is important, especially during the spring and summer months. There are a variety of tick-prevention products on the market, speak to your vet or local pet store for advice on which product is best for your pet.

Tick bites infographic

Ticks and children

The warmer spring and summer months mean children will spend more time playing outside, so it's important to check for ticks and bug bites.

Where to check for ticks

  • In the hairline (scalp)

  • Inside and behind the ears

  • Armpits

  • Back of neck

  • Inside belly button

  • Around waistline

  • Groin area

  • Legs

  • Behind knees

  • Between toes.

What to do if you find a tick on your child

It's important to remove a tick as soon as possible:

  1. Use tweezers to grasp the tick firmly at its head or mouth, next to the skin.

  2. Pull firmly and steadily until the tick lets go of the skin. Do not twist the tick or rock it from side to side. Parts of the tick might stay in the skin but eventually will come out on their own.

  3. Wash your hands and the site of the bite with soap and water.

  4. Swab the bite site with alcohol.

If you are not able to remove the tick or you're not sure what to do, contact your GP immediately.

What to keep an eye on after a tick bite

If you notice any of the following symptoms, contact your doctor immediately:

  • Widespread rash beginning two to 14 days after the bite

  • Fever or headache beginning two to 14 days after the bite

  • Increased redness or swelling over time

  • Weak, droopy eyelids, droopy face, or a crooked smile.

How to prevent tick bites for children

  • Always check for ticks after playing outside.

  • Use insect repellent on skin and clothes.

  • Wearing long-sleeved clothing, including socks and a hat, to keep ticks away from the skin.

  • Avoid tick-infested areas (wooded areas and fields).

Ticks and pets

Ticks are dangerous for pets as they secrete toxins from their saliva that interrupt the connection between nerves and muscles throughout the body, causing potentially fatal paralysis. The clinical signs of tick paralysis in pets include:

  • Change in the sound of their voice

  • Loss of appetite

  • Coughing or vomiting

  • Drooling

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Loss of coordination - paralysis begins in the back legs and moves to the front.

How to remove ticks from pets

  • Use your fingers (wearing disposable gloves) or a pair of tweezers to grab the tick by its head as close as possible to where it enters the skin and pull to remove it in a twist and pluck action, making sure not to leave the mouth parts attached as this can lead to infection and inflammation.

  • Keep the tick for identification and dab your pet’s skin with a mild antiseptic.

  • Keep them calm at a comfortable temperature and take them immediately for veterinary treatment whether or not any clinical signs are present - This can take up to 24 hours to develop.

What are fleas?

Fleas are a type of wingless parasite that feed on animal and human blood. Adult fleas can range from two to four millimetres in length, are brown in colour, and are generally oval in shape.

These little parasites are often found on humans and small animals such as cats, dogs, possums, rats, and other rodents. In homes, they tend to reside on shoes, pant legs, blankets, carpets, floorboards, and pet bedding.

Symptoms and treatment for flea bites

Flea bites usually result in itchy and swollen spots or bumps that are visibly noticeable within 30 or so minutes of being bitten. These bites are generally concentrated around the legs and feet. Sometimes a small blister or wound may develop approximately one day after being bitten.

This is what flea bites look like:

Picture of Flea Bites

To treat a flea bite, follow these steps:

  • Resist the urge to scratch as this may increase the risk of secondary infections.

  • Use anesthetic or calamine creams.

  • Continue to wash bitten areas with antiseptic soap.

  • Apply icepacks to bitten areas in order to reduce swelling at the site.

  • If symptoms persist or get worse contact your doctor.

Common pets such as dogs and cats are common carriers of fleas so it's important to continually check pets' fur, especially around the ears and rump areas. For treating pets and animals with fleas, visit a veterinarian for options on flea-killing solutions, which can include tablets, powders, and flea washes.

How to prevent fleas

After confirming that you or your pets have had fleas and the issue has been treated properly, it's important to thoroughly clean your household to ensure no more fleas remain. This means:

  • Cleaning animal bedding and the general surroundings thoroughly with flea spray or a similar bug control that is suitable and safe for pets.

  • Vacuuming all carpeted areas. Make sure to throw away the vacuum cleaner bag, since it will contain fleas and eggs, or use a surface spray into the bag.

  • Treat outdoor areas commonly used by your pet (including kennels) with appropriate insecticides. Make sure you are wearing gloves and long-sleeved protective clothing as instructed on the label.

  • Maintain hygienic practices, including regular vacuuming and monitoring of pets for fleas, in order to prevent another infestation.

Since flea eggs can survive for weeks, it's recommended that you repeat the cleaning procedure a number of times in order as a precautionary measure. If there's a persistent flea infestation, your household may need to be professionally treated by a qualified pest control operator.

Related reading:

If you have any questions or need extra support, we're here to help you anytime in any language. Simply start a chat with us via the home screen of the Sonder app.

Image credit: Erik Karits at Unsplash, Cornell, and Health Direct.

All content is created and published for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Always seek the guidance of a qualified health professional.

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