The scary truth about the paralysis tick

Paralysis tick (Ixodes holocylus) The Conversation

It is sometimes difficult to separate the facts about the paralysis tick from the myths and home-grown remedies suggested by well-meaning folks. You may have heard some of the suggestions on how to combat the tiny, toxic parasite that can kill dogs, cats and humans. The home-spun remedies include (for removal) kerosene, a hot needle, a hot match, Vaseline or methylated spirits.

No, you need to first kill the tick, by freezing it or using a scabicide. The Australian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) recommends using a ‘freezing’ spray commonly used to treat warts and available at pharmacies.

A cream used to treat scabies also does the trick but you need to leave it on for 20 minutes before removing the tick, with tweezers or patented tick removers (firm grip and a slight twist). Or if you have freeze-killed the tick, it should just drop off at some point. Experts are divided on which is the best approach.

While there are 75 different tick species in Australia, the primary culprit which can kill animals and cause a life-threatening anaphylactic reaction in humans is the paralysis tick or Ixodes holocylus. The paralysis tick occurs along the Eastern seaboard of Australia, primarily in wet sclerophyll forests (the ones with ‘gum’ trees and a lower layer of rainforest plants or shrubs) and temperate rainforests).

Since I went to an information workshop organised by Barung Landcare in Maleny, I have been somewhat over-zealous in my daily inspections of the moist parts of the body where ticks latch on. At times, I imagine I have a tick, when it is more likely a mosquito bite, but one can never be too cautious.

In the last month She Who Picks Peaches without Wearing a Hat reported in with ticks (i) behind her ear and (ii) on the crown of her scalp. In both cases these were the paralysis tick at the nymph stage which I killed with a scabicide then removed in the recommended manner.

“Little bastards,” quote SWPPWWAH.

Everyone agrees: the abnormally cool spring coupled with recent rains has raised the paralysis tick threat to critical. Then other day I ran out to the washing line to take in clothes before a storm arrived. This was the classic mistake – running barefoot on to the lawn where ticks can promptly run up one’s trouser legs. Imagine the horror when I picked up the (empty) laundry basket and saw two paralysis ticks scuttling around inside.

“WTF,” I exclaimed to SWPPWWAH. “How do they do that?”

According to a rural myth, the little bastards can jump, like fleas. Well, no, I left the laundry basket sitting on the lawn! But ticks do ‘quest,’ that is, they hang off the end of a blade of grass or a plant/tree branch waiting for a host to brush by. Ticks go through three life stages from the time a female lays about 3,000 eggs (larva, nymph and adult).

As dedicated readers may recall, I had what was described as a mild to moderate anaphylactic shock reaction to a paralysis tick bite in 2013. (Jeez, what must it be like to have a major reaction?) If you want to relive the ordeal (I don’t), go here:

I now carry an Epipen everywhere I go. I also kit myself out in light coloured gardening clothes, gumboots, hat, smother myself in insecticide and hang a tick repeller around my neck. The latter emits an electronic pulse said to repel ticks up to three metres.

There were two speakers at the Maleny workshop, retired vet Leigh Findlay (who spoke about dogs, cats and ticks) and Dr Ted Chamberlain, senior medical superintendent at Maleny Soldiers Memorial Hospital. The 69 people who attended mingled outside the function room exchanging tick anecdotes and describing their most recent attack.

Attendees included several people who have a recently diagnosed type of tick bite allergy called Mammalian Meat Allergy or MMA. Once their lives have been saved the first time, MMA sufferers will doubtless be advised to avoid eating red meat. Mammalian meat allergy is the result of acquiring the carbohydrate, alpha-gal, from ticks.

Dr Chamberlain told workshop attendees that Maleny hospital sees people with a tick bite on average once a week and 20 serious cases of anaphylaxis each year. He added that before he came here, he’d seen two cases over a 25-year medical career.

Dr Chamberlain identified two ‘hot spots’ for ticks – the Blackall Range (Sunshine Coast hinterland) and the northern beaches of Sydney. He believes there are two reasons for the increase in ticks. One is the change in climate, the other is that people unwittingly create tick habitat by allowing native vegetation to flourish. The main issue with maintaining natural habitat is that it encourages tick hosts including bandicoots and possums.

But are there ways of ridding your habitat of ticks in general? The number one solution is the insectivorous Guinea Fowl. There is a practical problem with keeping guinea fowl on your land as you can tell by (listening) to this 30 second YouTube video

Guinea fowl eradicate ticks (and other insects) by systematically stripping grass and plant stems with their beaks. Free-range chooks will also peck away at ticks and other insects, but not so effectively.

A few myths busted

Ticks do not fly or fall out of trees. If there is one latched on to your head it has been crawling around on your body for at least two hours;

The size of the tick bears no relationship to the severity of the allergic response;

Do ticks cause Lyme Disease? You may have seen an episode of Insight on SBS last year when host Jenny Brockie asked that question. The science says ‘no’ but an acrimonious debate has arisen as people succumb to strange illnesses which seem related to tick bites.

Certainly more research needs to be done to explore the genesis of “lyme-like illness” but for now, I’ll stick with the science answer: “…there is no definitive evidence for the existence in Australia of B. burgdorferi, or any other tick-borne spirochaete that may be responsible for a local syndrome being reported as LD.”

Nevertheless, a tick bite can cause swelling and infection and induce flu-like symptoms. Cases of tick-borne Rickettsia and Babesia have been documented in Australia. Some ticks bites can result in life-threatening illnesses including tick typhus and severe allergic reactions. It is now broadly accepted that forcibly removing a tick without killing it first may increase the severity of any allergic reaction.

The University of Sydney, which has been conducting research in this field for 12 years (with input from Dr Chamberlain), says the best method of avoiding ticks is to stay away from known tick infested areas.

Right. I’m looking out the window here at our serene country environment, the green rolling hills, the native trees blowing in the wind, native birds flitting about, the creek burbling away at the bottom of the block; the peace and quiet.

Not bloody likely.

(Paw note: I removed a 2mm long tick from the dog’s lower eyelid(!) last night. Amazing to me was that he lay passively in my lap while I poked around trying to get a good grip on the nasty little parasite that was causing him discomfort. The dog is on tick/flea preventative medication, but it is important to check them regularly anyway. Ed)


Catch a (brush) turkey for Christmas

Brush turkey for Christmas dinner? – image by She Who Takes Bird Photos, aka Laurel Wilson

The only thing more difficult than taking a photo of a brush turkey is selling the notion of preparing one for a (budget) Christmas lunch. Those of you quick on the uptake will have already registered that Mr FOMM is being ironic. Brush turkeys as you may know are a protected and even endangered species. Besides, they have a “stuff you’ attitude which is refreshing (bok!) And the chicks are cute.

As it happens, turkey is the least popular meat for people laying in provisions for Christmas. The ubiquitous Christmas ham leads the pack by a good margin, along with chicken, then turkey.

Northern hemisphere folk might find this hard to fathom, but rich hot food is not a priority for the Australian Christmas lunch. No, we prefer ham, chicken, prawns, a variety of cold salads and condiments, followed up with fruit salads, ice-cream, custard and yoghurt, all of it more befitting our typical 30+ degree Christmas Day. The diehards do Christmas pudding, but as we all know, it takes a long afternoon nap to sleep it off.

Retailers work hard at this time of year to sell us on the idea of (a) over-eating (b) over-spending and (c) eating food we rarely eat. The latter includes turkey, which has its biggest sales between December 20 and 24. I’m aware turkey is very big in the US and Canada on November 23 (Thanksgiving). According to the University of Illinois, 88% of Americans surveyed by the National Turkey Federation eat turkey on Thanksgiving; 46 million turkeys are eaten each Thanksgiving, 22 million at Christmas and 19 million at Easter

Compare that with Australia, where 3 to 5 million turkeys are killed and sold for meat every year. On average, Australians eat approximately 1kg of turkey per person per year, most of which is consumed during one week at Christmas.

You’ll pay about $110 for an organic turkey, or about $22 a kilo.

You can find loads of information on the Internet about meat consumption, much of it available on animal welfare websites, which point out the factory-like habitat of animals being fattened for consumption. I have a few things to say about that and one is that after being sent on an assignment to one of Queensland’s largest (cattle) feedlots, I went vegetarian for two or three months.

As you may not know, there are 2.1 million Australians (11.2%) who say they are vegetarians (Roy Morgan Research, 2016). Vegans are lumped in with vegetarians, though it’s not the same thing.

If you were curious about what vegos eat at Christmas, musician Emma Nixon says she makes a roast vegie, quinoa and lentil salad.

“It’s good hot or cold. I take the leftovers to Woodford

Another muso, Karen Law, says her family eats fish but is otherwise fully vegan. This year they might throw some salmon on the bbq, plus a lot of salad, bbq sweet potato and kipfler potatoes.

Folk dancers Peter and Linda Scharf favour tofu kebabs, with satay sauce, falafels, bean patties, salads with extra trimmings and dressings. Not to mention plum pudding (no suet) and a couple of glasses of ‘fermented grape juice’.

To spew or not to spew

Meanwhile, non-vegan Aussies are very big on eating prawns at Christmas – 50,000 tonnes were consumed last year at this time. Just so you know, 80% of prawns sold in Australia are imported and it costs about $50 a kilo to buy locally-caught prawns.

As I am one of an indeterminate number of people for whom prawns induce violent chundering*, I cannot explain the appeal. I watch people spending inordinate amounts of time shelling prawns (is that the right term) and it always seems to me there is more to throw out than what makes it into the ice bucket.

One Christmas past we returned from a holiday at the beach to be greeted with an awful smell, which was quickly traced to a full, broken, leaking and putrid wheelie bin on the street outside our house. Someone had waited until our (clean) bin was collected and replaced it with their munted* bin full of prawn waste. Eeuuw, people!

Full credit to Brisbane City Council waste management who (a) picked up the offending bin within 24 hours and (b) replaced it with a brand-new bin.

But I digress (yet again)

We are a wealthy country with relatively high disposable income, low-ish unemployment and a reputation for spending more than we earn.

Australian Retailer Association executive director Russell Zimmerman told SBS News last year that food and drink accounts for 40% per cent of the total Christmas spend.

The Pork Producers of Australia said that in the four weeks leading up to Christmas, 8.4 million kilos of ham was sold in 2015 and about the same in 2016. In terms of traditional bone-in hams, it was about 4.3 million kilograms in 2015 and 4.6 million kilograms in 2016 – an increase of 7.6%.

Our local research found that the price of Christmas hams can range from as little as $7 a kilo in discount supermarkets to $18 a kilo for organic and/or free range ham bought from a butcher. A premium boneless leg of ham could cost you upwards of $30 a kilo.

That seems cheap when you read about Spain’s jamon imberico, the truffle of the pork world. A 7.5 kg leg can cost between $A180 and $A720. Iberian ham comes from blackfoot pigs, raised on pasture planted with oak trees. According to my favourite source (The Guardian Weekly), the demand for Iberian ham in China is such that the escalating price is denying humble Spaniards their once-a-year treat.

Just so you know what you’re eating, all fresh pork sold in Australia is 100% Australian grown. However, approximately two thirds of processed pork (ham, bacon and smallgoods products) is made from frozen boneless pork imported from places like Denmark, the Netherlands, Canada and the United States.

According to an international study by Caterwings, Australians chew their way through 111.5 kilograms of meat per year, per person. (Someone’s eating our share). This data probably does not take into account the 11.2% of Australians who are vegetarians and vegans, the 604,000 Muslims as well as those of the Jewish faith who do not eat pork; or the unknown number of people who have developed a mammalian meat allergy by exposure to ticks (more on that topic next week).

If you can’t afford $90 or so for a leg of ham, I have a suggestion. There are these prehistoric-looking birds that roam around the scrub. They are notorious for scratching up people’s vegie gardens and using leaf litter and mulch to make huge mounds, inside which they lay their eggs. Yes, they are protected and indeed endangered (the chicks are left to fend for themselves as soon as they can walk around). But who’s to know if you knock one off, pluck and gut it, stuff it and cook for 17 or 18 hours or until tender? Don’t forget the basil.

Just don’t throw the waste and left-over meat in the wheelie bin and forget to put the bin out. That would be unneighbourly.

*Munted – Kiwi for ‘damaged or unusable.’

*chundering – Oz for vomiting

Christmas 2016

A new way to pay off a speeding fine

FOMM-mobile, caught for speeding

There came in the mail a rare thing – a ‘Go Fast Award’ or speeding fine. In this case, a speed camera captured our Ford Territory in transit on Caloundra Road (off Steve Irwin Way leading into Landsborough). Oh, you know that road too?

The infringement notice alleges the vehicle was doing 68kmh in a 60kmh zone. Fair enough, those are the road rules and I broke them.

“Tch, tch,” said She Who Never Speeds, consulting her diary to confirm that it was me, not she, who was driving at the time the award was made. “You might get in trouble using their photo,” she added.

Their photo my arse!

The speeding fine is $168 and I will also accrue one demerit point on a previously unsullied drivers’ licence. No big deal, you’d think. Alas, this will put a dent in my personal spending money, the next tranche of which is not due until January 1.

You should complain!” said She Who Never Speeds, “What about that money tucked away in your TAB account? Imagine if you were on Newstart!”

I did some homework on the Queensland Treasury offshoot called the State Penalties Enforcement Register (SPER), which will come to an arrangement if you can’t pay fines by the due date.

Debts registered with SPER  come from a wide pool of infringement notices and court orders. Every now and then one of the tabloids will spice up a slow news day with a beat-up drawn from statistics kept by SPER. The most common tactic is to focus on which postcode boasts the biggest SPER debt.

The ‘Struggle Street’ approach uncovers Logan City/Kingston, the Gold Coast and surrounds and Ipswich/Booval as the regions with the highest SPER debt (all-up tally $73.56 million). By stark contrast, the postcode 4468 (Morven, (near Augathella), has a SPER debt of just $7000. The postcode 4025 (Moreton Island) is another with a low SPER debt of $15,000 (people hooning about the sand dunes in 4WDs, no doubt).

The lower numbers in such isolated places may indicate fewer drivers and/or a more law-abiding population. The truth is rather more prosaic – an absence of speed cameras. It is no coincidence that the suburbs with the highest SPER debt are those in proximity to motorways and heavily trafficked main roads.

There’s no way to dress up SPER’s unhappy bottom line. As of October 2017, SPER debts totalled $1.20 billion. Treasurer Curtis Pitt told the ABC in May that SPER debts had doubled over five years to more than 1.5 million new cases. The Labor government has blamed the increase on the previous LNP regime, for loading up SPER debts with unpaid tolls from bridges and tunnels.

You can get some sense of how long it might take SPER to rein in this runaway debt by looking at its collection rate ($283 million in 2016-2017 and $93 million for the five months to October). Nevertheless SPER managed to keep growth of the debt pool down to 3% (compared to 15% in 2015-2016).

If you will allow me to illustrate the SPER dilemma for low-income Queenslanders, consider an unemployed person existing on the paltry fortnightly payment provided by Newstart. SPER will probably settle for $20 a fortnight, automatically taken from the welfare recipient’s payment.

As Harriet (not her real name) bewailed of her most recent speeding fine, “It will take me 10 years to repay all this (expletive) debt and in the meantime I keep getting (more expletives) what you call Go Fast Awards. You smug bastard!”

But wait. While Harriet emulates her pet fox terrier’s habit of chasing its tail, SPER has come up with a new scheme to help people suffering genuine hardship.

From today, Queenslanders facing hardship can apply for Work and Development Orders (WDOs). People unable to repay accumulated fines and penalties will be able to clear their debts by attending counselling or education courses. Previously the only recourse was to perform unpaid community work.

WDO is a case management system which considers a person’s whole debt history and circumstance rather than just focusing on individual debt.

WDOs will be available to people who are experiencing domestic or family violence, are homeless or under financial hardship, or those with a mental illness, intellectual or cognitive disability or serious substance use disorder.

A SPER spokesperson said WDOs would replace the Fine Option Order system, with debts reduced at a rate of $30 an hour. Participants are allowed to work up to 33 hours per month.

SPER will now partner with government and community-based sponsors who will manage people undertaking financial or other counselling, education, vocational or life skills courses, and unpaid community work.

The Community Service scheme was first introduced in Toowoomba in the mid-1980s as an alternative to fines and custodial sentences. Courts order offenders to complete a set number of hours of supervised community work. Those who do not complete their ‘hours’ get breached and are liable to be re-sentenced for the original offence.

The 2016-2017 Attorney-General’s annual report cites examples of the kind of unpaid work offenders may be required to do. In the Southern Region, offenders from Ipswich Probation and Parole can now perform community service making paper or crochet poppies for donation to local Councils and RSLs (for events such as Anzac Day and Remembrance Day).

In the Brisbane region, 17 offenders spent eight days over a period of four weeks repairing and painting the Sandgate-Redcliffe District Cricket Club’s fence. A total of 271 hours was spent working with club members to repair damaged palings and apply two coats of paint to approximately 1km of fencing.

In 2016–17, a total of 371,262 hours of court-ordered community service was completed in Queensland, equating to a value of approximately $9.1 million. While this equates to less than 1% of SPER debt resolved in 2016-2017, the community benefits are hard to dispute. The social merits of WDOs are also laudable, although some would see this as being ‘soft on crime.’

Meanwhile, what about the speeding fine issued to She Who Never Speeds, due for payment by December 19?

If you are one of the thousands of Queenslanders who got caught by a speed camera either exceeding the limit or running a red light, you know how this goes. The ‘ticket’ goes to the owner of the registered vehicle. If he/she was not the driver at the time the alleged offence was committed, the owner fills out a statutory declaration stating he/she was not the driver. If She Who Never Speeds sends the statutory declaration in a week or so before the due date, by the time a new infringement notice is sent out to the driver (me), the fine will not have to be paid until (guessing) the end of January, 2018.

In the interim, I’m wondering if I can wangle an informal WDO with SWNS – we pay the fine out of general housekeeping and I will carry out 5.6 hours of (supervised) heavy gardening. People who know what She once did for a living will find this wryly amusing.


Hobson’s Choice – guide to preferential voting

Hobson’s Choice – preferential voting sand photo by Bob Wilson

By Laurel Wilson

I wasn’t born in Australia, but I got here as quick as I could, and have been here a long time, having been educated in Brisbane (or at least I went to school and University there.) But I don’t recall being taught anything about our voting system. Perhaps it was considered to be not all that relevant, as the minimum voting age was 21 at the time.

After finishing a Dip.Ed. at the University of Queensland, I eventually landed a teaching job in Stanthorpe – regarded in those days as a ‘hardship’ post, perhaps because it was considered to be a long way from Brisbane and it was rumoured to snow there at times in winter.

As most teachers would have experienced, the newer teachers were generally assigned to what was considered to be the ‘less desirable’ classes – in my case, this included the 9B2E2- Industrial Boys class. I really liked those kids and found them to be intelligent and respectful. We all struggled through sessions of ‘Citizenship Education’, known, it must be confessed, by teachers and students alike, as ‘Shit Ed’, such was the turgid quality of the textbook.

Having to teach the subject did, however, result in my having first to grasp and then explain the concept of ‘preferential voting’ to my class of young boys.

So, dear readers, it has come to this – there’s an election on in Queensland tomorrow to decide whether we’re to have three years of a Labor Government (we will have four year terms from 2020 onwards), or whether the Liberal-National Coalition will resume where they left off nearly three years ago. There is, of course, the possibility that Pauline Hanson’s One Nation may get the nod.

In a system which I understand is particular (some would say peculiar) to Australia, voting is compulsory and elections are decided by a system of ‘preferential voting’, rather than the more common ‘first past the post’ system used in most other countries. To add to the complications, Queensland has reverted to ‘full preferential voting’, rather than the ‘optional preferential’ system used last election. This means that we must now place a number next to every candidate on the ballot paper in order of preference. Until recently, I was unaware that this change had occurred. I suspect this move was done rather quietly in some midnight Parliamentary sitting, but it may have just been the fact that I have, for some time, eschewed reading newspapers and watching TV news.

Those who already have a grasp on our voting system may choose to stop reading now, or continue if you’re curious to see whether someone who wasn’t born here can actually understand and explain the intricacies of ‘preferential voting’….

[For those not living in Queensland, the main parties contesting the election are Labor (incumbents- centre-left oriented, the original ‘workers’ party’); LNP- a coalition of Liberal (not the North American version of Liberal) and National parties (centre-right); Pauline Hanson’s One Nation (further to the right on many issues, populist); The Greens (emphasising environmental and social issues) and Katter’s Australia Party (rural conservatives). Some electorates will also have ‘Independents’- not officially aligned with any party.]

The ‘first past the post’ system of electing representatives has never been the case in Queensland. Preferential voting was introduced here in 1892 – 26 years before Prime Minister Billy Hughes introduced it for Federal elections, including the Senate. The rationale apparently was to allow competition between the conservative parties without risking seats. That worked out just fine, then.

The drawback of the preferential system is that a person can win a seat with as little as 35% or even less of the popular vote, providing there are more than 2 candidates vying for election in that seat. Of course when there are only 2 candidates, ‘preferential voting’ is not really relevant, as one candidate is bound to secure more than 50% of the valid votes on the first count. (I did ask Mr FOMM what would happen if there was a draw – we came to the conclusion that there would have to be a by-election. Any better ideas?)

To give an example of the ‘first past the post system’: – in this imaginary electorate, there are 1000 valid votes cast.

Candidate A from the ‘Let’s Not Party’ party gets 350 votes

Candidate B from the ‘Up the Workers’ party gets 300 votes

Candidate C representing the ‘Treehuggers’ gets 200

Candidate D from the ‘Please Explain’ party gets 125

And Candidate E – an Independent gets 75

If this were ‘first past the post’, candidate A from the ‘Let’s Not Party’ party would win, leaving 650 electors NOT getting their choice of candidate.

Under the full preferential system, electors must vote for all the candidates in the voter’s order of preference – e.g. candidate A was the ‘first preference’ of 350 voters, candidate B was the first preference of 300 voters and so on. A candidate must get 50%+ 1 of the votes to win. In the above example, no candidate has gained 50% +1 of the votes on ‘first preferences’, so that is when ‘second (and often third) preferences’ come into play.

Every valid vote must have a person’s preferences marked 1 to 5 in the above example, as there are 5 candidates. The next step is to count the ‘second preferences’ of the candidate with the lowest number of ‘first preference’ votes. This candidate is then eliminated from the count. In this case, the second preferences of those who voted for candidate E are counted. Say 50 of these go to candidate B and 25 to candidate C

The new count is:

A gets 350 +0    = 350

B gets 300 + 50 = 350

C gets 200 + 25 =  225

D gets 125 +0 = 125

(Candidate E eliminated)

Still no-one with 501 or more, so the 2nd preferences of candidate D are counted and candidate D is eliminated from the ‘race’. 100 people voting for candidate D have marked candidate B as their second preference and 25 have marked candidate A as their second preference

A gets 350 +0    =   350+25= 375

B gets 300 + 50 = 350+100= 450

C gets 200 + 25 =   225+0= 225

D gets 125 +0 =   125- preferences distributed and candidate D eliminated

STILL no-one with 500+1, so the 2nd preferences of candidate C are counted and candidate C is then eliminated from the ‘race’. 100 people voting for candidate C have marked candidate A as their next preference and 125 have marked candidate B as their next preference. (At the risk of losing the plot, but to be completely accurate, I must add that the 2nd preferences of 200 of candidate C’s voters are counted, as candidate C was their first choice, but the 3rd preferences of 25 people are counted, as candidate C was their 2nd choice)

A gets 350 +0    =   350+25=375+100=475

B gets 300 + 50 =350+100=450+125=575

C gets 200 + 25 =   225+0=225 preferences distributed and candidate C eliminated

Finally, we have a winner – candidate B from the ‘Up the Workers’ party is the first,  second (or third) preference of the majority of voters. I guess you could say this means ‘B’ is the least disliked of the candidates, so gets the nod.

So over to you, good Queenslanders. Be sure to vote on Saturday, and don’t forget to number all the squares on the ballot paper to be sure that your vote counts. And in the true tradition of elections, have a polling day sausage in a blanket and be nice to the people distributing ‘how to vote’ cards – they might just come in handy this time.

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