Ticks are more active in warm climates throughout the year, and in colder regions, their activity increases during summer months, typically from April to September.
These small, blood-feeding creatures, measuring between three to five millimeters in length, inhabit grassy, bushy, or wooded areas and can also be found on animals. When ticks latch onto a person or pet, there’s a risk of contracting tickborne diseases, which may result in fever, paralysis, or even death in severe cases.
A 6-year-old boy named Collin experienced a life-threatening situation when a tick selected him as its host, causing him to temporarily lose his motor skills.
One morning, Stephanie, Collin’s mother, observed that her typically lively son was not moving as he usually would. She initially thought that his temporary paralysis might have been caused by a head injury sustained at his brother’s baseball game. Concerned for their child’s well-being, Collin’s parents decided to take him to the emergency room.
Collin’s condition quickly worsened, leaving him unable to eat or drink without help. All he could do was breathe, as his health continued to deteriorate.
At the hospital, doctors struggled to identify the cause of Collin’s paralysis while his oxygen levels began to drop. Due to his deteriorating health, he was transferred to a better-equipped hospital. It was there that doctors discovered a tick embedded in the skin behind his ear. If the tick had remained undetected for just 30 more minutes, Collin would have likely suffered cardiac arrest.
Once the tick was removed, Collin quickly returned to his usual playful and energetic self. As the summer season commences in many states and across Canada, these troublesome parasites are emerging, seeking blood from people and animals alike.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that cases of illnesses caused by tick, mosquito, and flea bites, such as Zika, West Nile, and Lyme disease, tripled between 2004 and 2016. In a 2018 study, the CDC also reported that nine new germs transmitted by mosquitoes and ticks were either discovered or introduced into the U.S.
The study highlights a steady increase and spread of tickborne diseases, as well as a growing trend of mosquito-borne diseases originating from other parts of the world. While tick bites are common, research indicates that paralysis, like in Collin’s case, is quite rare.
It’s important to practice prevention and be aware of potential health issues caused by parasite bites, such as those from ticks or mosquitoes.
Zika is transmitted by infected mosquitoes and can cause symptoms like fever, rashes, headaches, joint pain, conjunctivitis, and muscle pain. Additionally, Zika can be sexually transmitted, and if a pregnant woman is infected, her baby may be at risk for birth defects.
West Nile, also transmitted by infected mosquitoes, causes symptoms in only about 20% of infected individuals. These symptoms may include headaches, body aches, joint pain, rashes, vomiting, or diarrhea. While anyone can contract West Nile, those with immunodeficiency disorders are at a higher risk.
Lyme disease, which has gained significant attention in recent years, is transmitted through the bite of an infected tick. The CDC estimates that approximately 476,000 Americans are diagnosed and treated for Lyme disease annually. Symptoms often resemble the flu, including chills, fever, body aches, and fatigue, and may also involve a rash.
Dr. Travis Stork, former host of the TV series The Doctors, explains that a key sign of Lyme disease is a rash with a bulls-eye pattern, which can sometimes expand beyond the initial bite site. He urges anyone experiencing such symptoms to consult a healthcare provider promptly, as they can discuss symptoms and order additional testing to ensure an accurate diagnosis.
The CDC warns that if left untreated, Lyme disease can spread to the joints, heart, and nervous system. Actor Alec Baldwin, who contracted Lyme disease over 20 years ago, described experiencing severe flu-like symptoms each summer for five years, causing him to fear for his life.
Despite skepticism from some, Lyme disease can be a serious condition. In 2020, Hailey Bieber, daughter of Stephen Baldwin and niece to Alec, defended her husband Justin Bieber when he revealed on Instagram that he had Lyme disease. She urged critics to research the disease and listen to the experiences of those who have struggled with it for years. Hailey emphasized the importance of educating oneself rather than belittling a disease that may not be fully understood.
In her Netflix documentary, “Not Just a Girl,” Canadian country music star Shania Twain shares her experiences living with Lyme disease, which she has had since 2003. She describes feeling dizzy on stage, fearing she would fall off, and experiencing brief blackouts regularly, every minute or every 30 seconds.
Dr. Travis Stork emphasizes that prevention is key to avoiding tick bites. In an interview with People, he advises, “The best way you can protect yourself from any of these diseases is to avoid areas where they thrive.” He warns that ticks carrying Lyme disease are most prevalent in wooded areas, tall grass, and lawns and gardens — places where people often spend time during the summer months. Therefore, it’s crucial to be proactive in protecting oneself.
It’s essential to check your pets for ticks when they come indoors, as dogs can also contract Lyme disease, with symptoms such as lameness and joint stiffness.
Cases like Collin’s serve as a reminder of the importance of reducing the risk of mosquito and tick-borne diseases. To protect yourself and your pets, avoid tall grass and always check for ticks after spending time outdoors. Mosquitoes are most prevalent in areas with standing water and are particularly active at dusk. When outdoors in the evening, wear long pants and sleeves, and use insect repellent containing DEET to keep mosquitoes at bay.