Ticks under pressure | Tim Roberts

Summer and more time in the bush brings the inevitable problem for us and our pets: ticks and their removal.

The latest thinking is to freeze them and flick them off. But how to do that? 

Last week I saw a new product on the market, Tick Tox, a small pressurised-can with a fine nozzle and a shielding device to target just the tick to ensure the tick, and not the skin around it, is frozen.

The life cycle of a tick, as it hatches from egg to larva, metamorphoses to nymph, grows to adulthood, mates and lays about 300 eggs, requires three blood meals from its host animal, or indeed any animal or human that might come along at the wrong time. 

Our local ticks deliver a potent paralysis toxin that commonly sends pet dogs to the veterinary surgery.  It’s less common, but some humans develop dangerous anaphylactic reactions to the tick saliva and some develop allergies to red meat such as beef.

During the long history of evolution, many human and animal bacterial pathogens have adapted to use the tick as a way of passing from one host to another, so a tick bite in Australia can cause disease such as scrub typhus. 

Indeed our laboratory showed some years ago that the brown dog tick causes tick fever in dogs through injecting them with a bug, previously not thought to be in Australia, called Anaplasma platys. The symptoms being anaemia and autoantibodies to blood platelets, the target cell of the bug.

Tick Tox is a wonderful example of entrepreneurism. Canberran, Peggy Douglass, after having too many tick bites while working in her aunt's Palm Beach garden, decided to do something to make it easier to kill ticks, by snap freezing them, thus filling a gap in the market.

Professor Tim Roberts is the director of the Tom Farrell Institute for the Environment, University of Newcastle