Ticks are parasitic arachnids that are active year-round in warmer climates, or in cooler regions, the tick population heats up in the summer months, from April through September.
These tiny little blood suckers, only three to five millimeters long, live in grassy, brushy, or wooded areas, or on animals. When a tick grasps a hold of you or your pet, there’s a risk of tickborne disease, which can be accompanied by fevers, paralysis or in extreme cases, death.
For 6-year-old Collin, who temporarily lost his motor skills, he was near death because a tick chose him as its host.
One morning, Collin’s mother Stephanie noticed something was wrong with her usually energetic son, who wasn’t moving as he normally would.
Initially thinking the temporary paralysis was caused after hitting his head at his brother’s baseball game, and not willing to take any chances on their child, his parents took him to emergency.
Collin’s suspicious condition was rapidly declining, and unable to eat or drink without assistance, all he could do was breathe.
At the hospital, while doctors tried to diagnose the unidentified source of paralysis, Collin’s oxygen levels started dropping, requiring the boy to be transferred to a hospital that was better equipped to deal with his progressively worsening health.
That was when doctors found the cause, a tick clutching its legs into skin the behind his ear. If it had taken just 30 minutes longer, the little boy would have gone into cardiac arrest.
Once they removed this parasite, it didn’t take long for Collin to be back to his playful, energetic self.
With summer season starting in many states and across Canada, the pesky parasites are welcoming a fresh supply of blood from people and animals.
According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cases of illnesses from tick, mosquito and flea bites, like Zika, West Nile and Lyme disease, tripled over 13 years, from 2004 through 2016. Also, the CDC reports in the 2018 study that there are nine new germs spread by mosquitoes and ticks, either discovered or introduced into the U.S.
The study says, “The data shows that we’re seeing a steady increase and spread of tickborne diseases, and an accelerating trend of mosquito-borne diseases introduced from other parts of the world.”
Research shows that though tick bites are common, developing paralysis like in Collin’s case is very unusual.
Still it’s best to be practice prevention and be aware of possible health implications resulting from parasites bites, like ticks or mosquitoes.
Zika, spread by infected mosquitos, leave people with symptoms like fever, rashes, headaches, joint pain, conjunctivitis, and muscle pain. Zika can also be sexually transmitted and if a woman with Zika is pregnant, there’s a risk that her baby will have a birth defect.
Also spread through the bite of an infected mosquito, West Nile symptoms, which are experienced only by about 20 per cent of people, can include headaches, body aches, joint pain, rashes, vomiting or diarrhea. It’s possible for anyone to become infected however, people Immunodeficiency disorders are at a greater risk.
Lyme disease, that’s gained a significant amount of publicity over the last few years, is contracted through the bite of an infected tick.
The CDC reports that every year, about 476,000 Americans are diagnosed and treated for Lyme disease, with flu-like symptoms–chills, fever, body aches and fatigue–that may also be present with the rash.
Dr. Travis Stork, host of the former TV series The Doctors, says that signs of Lyme disease include a rash that follows a bulls-eye pattern, sometimes expanding beyond the initial bite site.
Urging people with symptoms to immediately see a healthcare provider, he said, “they can discuss your symptoms with you and order additional testing to ensure you are correctly diagnosed.”
Untreated, CDC warns that the infection can spread to the joints, heart and nervous system.
Actor Alec Baldwin, who was infected with Lyme disease more than 20 years ago, said, “I got the classic Lyme disease (symptoms) for each successive summer, for five years, every August, like this black lung, flu-like symptoms, sweating to death in my bed,” Baldwin said. “And I really thought this is it, I’m not going to live.”
Though the idea of a tickborne disease has been scoffed at by some, Lyme disease can be serious.
In 2020, Hailey Bieber–the daughter of Stephen Baldwin, brother to Alec–defended her husband Justin Bieber after he revealed on Instagram that he has Lyme disease: “For those who are trying to downplay the severity of Lyme disease, please do your research and listen to the stories of people who have suffered with it for years,” she wrote, addressing judgemental fans. “Making fun of and belittling a disease you don’t understand is never the way, all it takes is educating yourself.”
In her Netflix documentary, Not Just a Girl, Shania Canadian country music star Twain explains her life with Lyme disease, that she’s had since 2003, “…I was on stage very dizzy, I was losing my balance, I was afraid I was going to fall off the stage…I was having these very, very millisecond blackouts, but regularly–every minute or every 30 seconds.”
Prevention, Dr. Stork says, is the most effective way to avoid a bite. “The best way you can protect yourself from any of these diseases is to avoid areas where they thrive,” Dr. Stork said in an interview with People. “Lyme disease-carrying ticks are most prevalent in the wooded areas, tall grass and lawns and gardens that we tend to play, hike and relax in during summer months, so people really have to be proactive in protecting themselves.”
As for your pets, always check them carefully for clinging ticks when you bring them inside. It’s possible dogs can also get Lyme disease with symptoms like lameness and joint stiffness.
These example, starting with little Collin, should serve as a reminder of how important it is reduce your risk of mosquito or tick borne diseases.
When you can, avoid tall grass and after being outdoors, always check yourself and your pets for ticks. Mosquitos are mostly populated in areas with standing water, their activity peaking at dusk so if you’re outdoor in the evening, cover up with pants and long-sleeves, and use insect repellant with DEET.