Ticks around the world can spread disease. In America they’re best known as carriers of Lyme Disease. Thankfully Australian Paralysis Ticks don’t carry Lyme disease. They will just paralyse and kill you instead.
All ticks inject a cocktail of weird crap into their host. It’s a mix of stuff to stop blood clotting, but also to stop the host feeling pain, or swelling, etc. Paralysis Ticks just have one extra ingredient - a paralytic neurotoxin.
This venom is not fast-acting. Right at the start the tick doesn’t inject any venom at all, or only a tiny bit. At the earliest only two days in, but after up to a week, the legs weaken. The weakness travels up the body until fully paralysing the victim finishing off with the lungs. Venom can continue acting on the body for up to four days, so getting the critter gone is important. They’re basically hanging there drinking from a pit made into your skin so they can fill up with tasty blood and make a billion babies. So you really don’t want them there.
Paralysis Ticks are not a massive danger to humans. We have a lot of advantages, not least that we’re physically quite large. We can physically check ourselves and aren’t especially hairy. It’s pets who are at the most danger from them. The combination of a small size, thick fur, no hands, and a complete lack of awareness of what’s going on around them means cats and dogs routinely die from tick bites.
Still, it’s not all good for us. 20 people have been killed by Paralysis ticks, though none since 1945 thanks to medical improvements. That’s more than either Redback Spiders or Funnel-Web spiders. Something to be aware of.
Most deaths aren’t caused by paralysis. They’re caused by allergic reaction to the tick bite. Anaphylactic shock is lethal, and can be exhibited by about 2% of people bitten. About the same percentage that are allergic to bees. This reaction can occur much faster than the week required for paralysis to set in.
In 2002 a 48 year old man presented at an emergency room complaining that he was a bit unsteady on his feet, and his lips were numb. He was found to have more than 40 paralysis ticks scattered across his body, which were carefully removed with tweezers.
That email and Facebook thing about them coming off if you put vaseline or some sort of cream on them is complete BS. Ticks barely need to breathe, and won’t asphyxiate. Pull them out from the head with tweezers. Now. Immediately. They are actively killing you.
Which is really kind of a weird thing to do. It’s not known exactly why a parasite would kill its host. That’s just dumb. It’s believed that it’s an evolutionary adaptation from the time when mega-mammals roamed Australia. Paralytic neurotoxins might have made them a bit more calm and less likely to knock the ticks off before they were finished making babies. Or they might just be assholes. That theory has some merit, too.
Paralysis ticks infest in huge numbers from the very north of Australia to the very south, a thick band along the eastern coast. This band is also know as “the bit people live in”. These aren’t a rare tick. There’s a decent chance of picking one up - not just any old tick, but a paralysis tick - any time you wander through any sort of bush or grassland area. For the love of God, if you go walking in any semi-rural area, check yourself thoroughly. And don’t forget the sack or crack.
It’s not glamorous, but they often like to hide down there, playing with your bits.