Most people are appropriately alarmed about ticks during the warm months and in warm climates, and some are downright afraid of them. There is good reason for this: ticks carry disease, with some types of ticks carrying Lyme disease, a systemic infection causing widespread physiological problems in people and animals. In fact, it’s reported that up to 50 percent of deer ticks carry the bacteria, so it’s always a good idea to take care and inspect your pets and yourself after being outdoors. About 300,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with Lyme disease each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and many more may have it and not realize it.
Most ticks are fairly visible to the naked eye; certainly not something that one needs to inspect closely before realizing it is a tick. Ticks survive off of blood, and when they are unattached to a blood supply, are often flat and dark brown, but when attached to a blood supply, may swell to the size of a olive, and may become greenish in color. Most tick-borne illnesses are not passed until a tick has been attached (its mouth part, or “sucker,” imbedded into the host’s skin) for several hours. While Lyme disease is one type of serious illness, ticks may also carry Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, which can be fatal, as well as a disease called Powassan virus. Powassan is very rare, with only around 75 cases diagnosed in the U.S. each year, but it carries a serious, sometimes fatal health risk.
It’s alarming enough to think that a tick may attach itself to you while you are unaware of it, but imagine if hundreds did at one time. It sounds like a horror movie, but that’s exactly what happened to 3-year-old Emmalee Setzer of Ohio last year, according to CBS News. Emmalee had been playing outside on a hot summer day, and her mother called her in to take a nap and change her daughter’s damp clothes. That’s when Beka Setzer noticed that Emmalee had hundreds of pinpoint-size black dots on her body, and she assumed that they were grass seed. However, they wouldn’t wipe off, and when she looked at them closely, she was horrified to discover that they were tiny ticks, all imbedded into her daughter’s skin. Red welts were beginning to form from Emmalee’s body having a reaction to the bites, her mother said.
“I stopped bothering to count the attached ones after they surpassed 150, but I easily pulled 50 or more off that were not yet attached but instead still crawling. It was when one was crawling around on my finger that I finally recognized them as ticks — and I mean tiny ticks.”
She immediately gave her daughter Benedryl and bathed her in dish soap. She also found the nest of ticks where her daughter had been playing, nests where thousands of ticks could live. It wasn’t a new type of tick that Beka Setzer had discovered. It was the larval or “baby” form of a tick, and can be so small that hundreds could be on your pet or on you without even being noticed.
Emmalee developed a fever and a swollen lymph node, so her mother took her to the emergency room. Although she tested negative for Lyme disease, doctors treated the child with antibiotics for two months just to be safe, Setzer said.
“Right away she was started on what ended up being almost two months of antibiotics in attempt to prevent any tick-borne illness. The biggest thing that resulted from this, was a cyst that formed along the growing and continually swollen lymph node had to be surgically removed as the size and location in her throat became worrisome.”
Because entomologists have predicted that this summer may have particularly high populations of ticks in many locales, Setzer says she wants to get the word out about “seed ticks” so that people are aware.
“I hope to open other parents’ eyes as to all the size of ticks they should be checking for — not just the more commonly seen adult ticks, but these larvae ticks (‘seed ticks’) as well. I had only ever experienced adult ticks of several different breeds and had never encountered a nest of ticks in the larvae stage, so it’s certainly a learning experience.”
[Featured Image by Getty Images/Stringer]