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Tick Paralysis: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Tick paralysis is caused by over 40 species of ticks worldwide (5 in North America, including the deer tick) and can occur in almost any region where ticks are found. The disease has killed thousands of anima, mainly cows and sheep, in other parts of the world. Although tick paralysis is of concern in domestic animals and livestock in the United States as well, human cases are rare and usually occur in children under age 10 during April to June - when nymphs and mature wood ticks are most prevalent - especially in the Northwest.

Onset of symptoms usually occurs after a tick has fed for several days. Unlike Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, and babesiosis, which are caused by systemic proliferation and expansion of parasites in the body long after the offending tick is gone, tick paralysis is chemically induced by the tick and can therefore continue only in its presence. Once the tick is removed, symptoms usually diminish rapidly. However, in some cases, profound paralysis can develop and even become fatal before any­one becomes aware of a tick's presence.

Causes of Tick Paralysis:

Tick paralysis occurs when an engorged and pregnant female tick produces a neurotoxin in its salivary glands, which blocks the release of acetylcholine at the synapse and inhibits motor-stimulus conduction, and transmits it to an animal or human during feeding. Experiments show that the greatest amount of toxin is produced between the fifth and seventh day of attachment (often initiating or increasing the severity of symptoms), although the timing may vary depending on the species of tick.

Signs and symptoms of Tick Paralysis:

Symptoms of tick paralysis generally begin from five to seven days after a tick becomes attached, beginning with fatigue, numbness of the legs, and muscle pains. The tick usually attaches itself on the scalp. Paralysis rapidly develops from the lower to the upper extremities and, if the tick is not removed, is followed by tongue and facial paralysis. There is little effect on sensory functions. The most severe complications may include convulsions, respiratory failure and, in up to 12% of untreated cases, death.

Diagnosis of Tick Paralysis:

Because of the inability of laboratory tests to indicate tick paralysis, diagnosis is based on symptoms and the rapid improvement of the patient once the engorged tick is removed.

Other conditions to consider include Guillain-Barre syndrome, botulism, poliomyelitis, polyneuritis, myelitis, and myasthenia gravis.

Treatment of Tick Paralysis:

If unrecognized, tickparalysis can progress to respiratory failure. Prompt removal of the feeding tick(s) is essential. It is important to remove all the mouthparts, since they contain the salivary glands, which may continue to infect the patient even after the body of the tick has been removed.

Special considerations and Prevention Tips of Tick Paralysis:

1. Provide frequent skin care, positioning, and toileting practices if the paralysis has advanced.

2. Record accurate intake and output to prevent dehydration and skin breakdown.

3. Perform careful observation of the affected tick bite area for potential infection, or any remaining toxin-producing glands.

To avoid tick bites, teach patients to:

4. wear long pants, long-sleeved shirts, socks, and enclosed shoes

5. use insect repellents

6. inspect their body thoroughly after returning from any outing, even if they go no further than the front lawn. Prompt removal of ticks, preferably before they've had a chance to become engorged, will go a long way in preventing tick paralysis and other tick-borne diseases.

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Yick Paralysis


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