What is Tick Paralysis?

Jacob Queen

Tick paralysis is the term used to describe a condition that can be caused by the bite of a pregnant female tick. It results in a loss of ability to control certain muscles. Usually the condition first shows up in the lower extremities and gradually spreads upwards through the body. Tick paralysis is a potentially deadly condition, and most experts recommend that it should be treated as an emergency. It can sometimes be difficult to diagnose, and the only giveaway is the combination of the symptoms along with the presence of a tick.

A tick.
A tick.

Many species of female tick have the capacity to produce a special poison when they are pregnant. This isn’t normally true during the entire pregnancy, and only applies to a short period of time. The toxin often disables the nervous system and gradually causes people or animals to lose the ability to move. In many people, it starts out as an awkward walking gate as victims lose coordination in their legs and feet—gradually, other areas may be affected.

Depending on their sex and type, ticks can expand to different sizes -- as big as a grape or as small as an apple seed -- when feeding on blood.
Depending on their sex and type, ticks can expand to different sizes -- as big as a grape or as small as an apple seed -- when feeding on blood.

Any person who is bitten by a tick has the risk of developing tick paralysis, so the chance of getting it goes up if someone has more than a normal level of tick exposure. Someone who engages in a lot of outdoor activity will often be at a greater risk. The same is true for people who own pets that tend to attract ticks, such as dogs. The longer a tick is able to stay on a person, the more potential there is for infection, so a general awareness of ticks can greatly lessen the chances of tick paralysis.

If tick paralysis isn’t treated, major muscles that control breathing and organ function will often eventually be affected. This can easily lead to death, which occurs in cases where people don’t get any treatment. Some animals are also vulnerable to tick paralysis, and in those cases, it is much more frequently fatal because people may not know what is causing the problem, and animals are generally unable to treat themselves.

The actual treatment for tick paralysis is generally considered simple. All that is required is removing the tick. After the tick is extracted, the poison will quickly be cleansed from the blood stream, and people will generally regain most of their motor functions within a few hours. The problem comes from diagnosing the disorder before it is too late, and it can sometimes be difficult to find the tick, particularly in cases where people have long hair.

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