The amblyomma americanum or lone star tick as it is commonly known, is a common type of tick mainly found in the south central and south eastern parts of the US, although in recent times the species has spread across a larger area of the country. The life cycle of a lone star tick involves four stages, namely egg, larva, nymph and adult. The female of the species is easily distinguishable by the white star shaped spot on its back, which acts as part of its shield. A male lone star will not have the white spot, and will instead have some spotting along its back. Both the male and female species are red brownish in adult stage.
Lone star ticks are known to have a longer mouth than other types, and they use their barbed teeth to make a small incision on their host, which typically would be cattle, pets like cats and dogs, and humans.
Throughout its life cycle, the tick will feed on three different hosts while still growing. Cattle are the favorite of lone star ticks and an adult male will mostly feed on cows or other cattle; if possible, they also attach themselves to humans. The adult female also has the same feeding habits. At nymph stage, the tick will feed on birds or other small hosts. At both stages, the tick can feed on humans.
They attach themselves onto their host and use a salivary fluid in their mouth as anesthetic so that when they suck blood, the host will not feel it.
The anesthesia effect will last as long as the tick is attached to the body of the host, and when it removes itself, the skin of the host usually suffers some irritation and bruising at the bite spot. A red rash can also be caused, but it is not an indication of infection.
Diseases related to the lone star tick
When this tick attaches itself onto a human, the individual may end up with a bad rash and this rash tends to resemble Lyme disease. Lone star ticks do not actually transmit the bacterium that causes this disease, but they can transmit a number of diseases to their host, like tick paralysis, rocky mountain, tularemia, ehrlichiosis and STARI, which stands for Southern Tick Associated Illness. If a person gets tick paralysis, their normal nerve function is affected, but as soon as the tick is removed, the body returns to its normal self.
Possible hosts for the tick
This species of ticks readily attach themselves onto and feed on dogs, other household pets and humans. In addition, many people carry the tick at varying forms of its growth cycle and spread it to other habitations; even across oceans where it sometimes finds optimal growing conditions. The Texas habitat is a perfect place for the lone star to spread, but due to the aggressive nature of the tick and its tendencies to travel far in pursuit of a host, many other regions in and outside of the US have experienced rising numbers of the species.
Precaution measures to avoid illness
Tickborne illness can easily be prevented by staying away from areas prone to ticks like the woods and areas with thick bushes. A number of repellants can be used to kill these ticks; also, making sure to cover your legs by wearing long pants and socks when going into the woods will reduce the chances of a tick attaching itself to you.
Since the bite of a tick is not felt initially, the tick can cause real danger to a person if it attaches itself in certain areas. If, for instance, this type of tick were to attach itself near or on the back of the neck, the paralyzing salivary fluid it excretes may cause temporary paralysis to the person or death if the tick is not immediately removed.
How to combat ticks
A lone star tick is very easy to recognize; it is normally brown, has eight legs, and the body is fused into one region. After going into the woods or other areas, which have an abundance of ticks, it would be best to check for them on your clothing or on the skin. Because of the small size of ticks and their aggressive nature in pursuing a host, people are advised to tuck their pants into their socks when going into tick territory. Although this may inhibit their movements somewhat, the more effective way to combat them is to use DEET based repellants to keep them off.
Diseases spread by lone star ticks
Recent cases of Lyme disease across the US, allegedly caused by lone star tick bites, has caused some controversy about whether the amblyolama americanum species is capable of transmitting spirochete borrelia burgdorferi that causes the disease; but at the moment, most researchers believe it does not. The types of diseases that the center for disease control believes ticks spread include;
- Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF)
- STARI (Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness)
- Q fever
Since there is no formal way to examine or test the body for tickborne diseases, a doctor would have to physically look for signs of bites and ticks still attached to the skin. Depending on the type of tick, the doctor would then choose the right treatment because some species of ticks can carry dangerous pathogens that are harmful to humans.
Pay attention symptoms
Symptoms like general body weakness, nausea, fever and vomiting can all be caused by lone star tick bites and they persist, even weeks after the bite. In such cases, it is advisable to see a doctor. Joint pain, numbness, confusion and paralysis; these would be the worst case scenarios relating to tick infection and they need to be treated as soon as the person notes them. Since these ticks have in recent times spread all across the country, it would not be impossible to be bitten. If an individual lives in an area unlikely to be a habitat for ticks but has the above-mentioned symptoms, then a doctor would need to examine the person to find out if there is a chance of infection.