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Tick Paralysis

Department of Health
Kari Reiber, MD, Acting Commissioner

  • What is tick paralysis?

  • Tick Paralysis is a rare tick borne illness caused by a neurotoxin from the salivary glands of certain species of female ticks. It commonly affects children under the age of seven; however, adults can be affected also. The condition has a world-wide distribution and affects canines and livestock, as well as other animals. It is more common in Australia and South Africa. Serious livestock losses have been reported in Montana, Idaho and Oregon. Exact numbers of human cases of this condition are not known because it is not a reportable condition according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; however, it is now reportable in Dutchess County. An unofficial estimate of cases of this condition in New York State is about one case every two years.

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  • How is it spread?

  • The disease is transmitted by female ticks. The tick species involved are:
    • The American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis) predominant in the eastern United States. Its peak seasonal activity is March, April and May.
    • The Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum), predominant in the southern U.S.
    • The Rocky Mountain wood tick (Dermacentor andersoni), predominant in the western U.S.
    • In other parts of the world, Ixodid species and Argasid species are implicated.

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  • What are the symptoms of tick paralysis?

  • Five to seven days after tick attachment, the patient may develop fatigue, numbness of the legs, and muscular pain. A flaccid paralysis rapidly extends from the lower to the upper extremities. If the attached tick is not found and removed, the condition can worsen, resulting in difficulty swallowing with tongue and facial paralysis. The most severe complications may include convulsions, respiratory failure and even death.

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  • How long does the disease last?

  • Prompt removal of the tick will prevent progression to paralysis and recovery should occur in a few days.

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  • How do I prevent tick paralysis?

  • Individuals who must go into a tick-infested area should:
    • Use protective clothing, repellents and insecticide (acaricides).
    • Perform thorough tick checks.
    • Wear light-colored clothing to facilitate seeing and brushing off ticks.
    • Tuck pants into socks and shirt into pants to prevent ticks from reaching skin.
    • When hiking, stay in the center of trails.
    • Use repellents containing DEET on the skin (but not on the hands or near the eyes).
    • Use the acaricide permanone (Permakill)(TM) on clothing only.
    • Before coming indoors, examine your body for ticks.
    • Promptly finding and removing ticks is the best preventive measure. It is important to remove ticks carefully and completely. If any of the mouth parts are present, toxin may still be released and further complications may not be avoided.

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  • Where can I get more information on tick paralysis?

  • Contact the Dutchess County Department of Health at 387 Main Mall,
    Poughkeepsie NY 12601, Telephone (845) 486-3452.

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Dr. Henry M. Kurban, MD, MBA, MPH, FACPM,Commissioner of DCBCH Dr. Henry M. Kurban, MD, MBA, MPH, FACPM
Commissioner of DCBCH
Dutchess County Seal



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