Ticks on Humans

Gauteng Smallholder has run stories on ticks affecting pets and livestock, but we smallholders are also at risk because of where we live.

Different ticks carry various bacteria which can cause diseases in human. When an infected tick bites a human, the bacterium is transmitted in the saliva.

Amblyomma hebraeum (pictured above) transmits Rickettsia africana, the cause of African tick-bite fever in humans. The larvae of A. hebraeum are probably more responsible than any other tick for tick bites in humans.

Symptoms may include fever, headache, muscle pains, malaise and a rash. At the site of the bite there is typically a black eschar (a black mark where the bite occurred). Onset usually occurs 4–10 days after the bite. Your age and underlying health may also influence the severity of the infection.

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The eschar is the black mark left where the bite occurred

Your doctor is likely to make a diagnosis based on your symptoms and the likelihood of your having been bitten by a tick. Results from blood tests take too long, so the doctor probably won’t even bother to have a test done.

Where the tick bite fever is fairly mild, people may get better on their own without specific treatment. This can take up to two weeks however, and treatment with an antibiotic can shorten the duration of symptoms and reduce the chance of a serious side-effect. In severe cases, antibiotic therapy is more important, and can be lifesaving.

A good way to prevent tick bite fever obviously is to avoid being bitten by ticks – difficult if you spend time in your fields on your plot.

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A rash may occur with tick bite fever

However, it helps to cover exposed skin by wearing long-sleeved shirts, long pants and hats. Light coloured clothing makes it easy to see ticks. Tuck in shirts, tuck pants into socks, and wear closed shoes instead of sandals to prevent bites.

There are various forms of insecticides which are made to be sprayed onto or soaked into fabrics. There is also a brand of hiking socks called Falke Walkie. A formulation of the insect repellent permethrin, embedded in the fibres of the sock, protects the wearer against tick bites, as well as mosquito, midge and flea bites.

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