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)


Cancel my PO Box

Photo of PO Box Warburton (Vic) by Mick Stanic

Some of my rural readers have been writing impassioned letters about a troubling domestic issue (the rising cost of renting a PO Box).

“Dear Mr BobWords, (wrote Perplexed Pensioner of Reeseville)

“When we knew we’d be moving to Maleny, we applied for a PO Box. “When we arrived here on Dec 22nd, 1993, the post office was still in the old house on the corner of Teak St.

“They kept saying (once we presented ourselves in person), that there were no private mailboxes to spare, so we had “poste restante” status for quite a while. Once the new Riverside Centre post office opened, we were finally able to rent our new PO Box: the fee was $40 p.a. (1995-96).

“When I recently received the renewal notice for my standard P.O Box, I could see it was going to cost me $129. Frankly, it seemed a waste of a Pensioner’s Pittance. Australia Post offered a $5 discount if you paid before March 31st (but nothing for pensioners!)

“So, after almost 24 years I have let go of my town lifeline.”

Yes, we hear you, Perplexed Pensioner. We decided there was not enough mail arriving in our private mailbox to justify the expense.

Ironically, when we inquired about getting a six-month mail redirection, we found that these rates too would rise on April 3.

When reviewing essential household mail, I discovered that 80% of our bills and official communiques arrive via email.

In line with similar issues facing postal services in all countries, revenue has been squeezed by online transaction services. Moreover, operating costs in this labour-intensive business (Oz Post employs 36,000 people), keep on rising.

As always, Australia Post is constrained by its obligation to offer postal services to all, no matter where they live.

Next time you gasp at the cost of posting a letter or parcel, Australia Post’s 2016 annual report confirms that losses for its regulated postal service over five years now total $1.29 billion.

Increasing the cost of letter postage from 41c in 1989 to $1 in 2017 does not seem to have done the trick.

Nevertheless, Australia Post returned a profit after tax every year between 2012 and 2014. Though producing its first after-tax loss of $221.7M in 2015, it was in the black again last year ($36.4 million).

Email rules – for now

If I had to mail this newsletter to FOMM subscribers, it would cost more than $500 per week, including envelopes, stamps, printing and labour. That would mean I’d have to pass the cost on to you, dear reader, market forces driving me to embrace the profit ethos.

Australia Post’s letter volumes peaked in 2008, according to its 2016 annual report. In the eight years since, volumes have declined by 41% per letterbox. We have seen this happen in our private mail box too.

Perplexed Pensioner referred us to a blog by Anny, a calendar-maker. She took Australia Post to task in 2014 and again this year for what she sees as price gouging, including a list of PO Box price rises compiled from her records of invoices (from $55 in 2004 to $129 in 2017).

While price increases in recent years have been well above average annual inflation, increases have been smaller since 2014.

“From February, Post Office (PO) Box prices increased by an average of 2.7% across the product range,” an Australia Post spokesperson told FOMM. “Like many businesses, Australia Post is operating in a challenging economic environment with increasing costs and competition.”

Local correspondent Little Bird says the cost of private mail boxes is a can of worms for the minority of Australians who do not have street delivery.

“Because we don’t have street delivery we pay a discounted rate, but I think it’s still a bit rich when everyone else gets their mail delivered for nothing.

“Also, since we live out of town it also means they won’t deliver parcels out here. The Australia Post-aligned couriers won’t deliver here either. (There are some which contract to Australia Post and some which do their own deliveries). So the sender pays a courier rate to have something delivered and it still goes no further than the PO Box.”

Australia Post responded: “Residents living in areas that receive a street delivery service less than once per week can collect mail over the Post Office counter for free. As PO Boxes are an optional delivery service (they), may be eligible to lease a PO Box at a reduced rate.”

Hefty price increases are not uncommon after government-owned essential services are corporatised or privatised.

So let’s be clear about one thing – Australia Post is still 100% owned by the Commonwealth Government. However, since 1989 (when, incidentally, a stamp cost 41c), it has been run as a Government-Owned Corporation.

It is run very much along private company lines – many of its post office shops are privately owned and along the way Australia Post bought its own courier service (StarTrack) to compete with rival courier services.

The Institute of Public Affairs has lobbied for the government to fully privatise Australia Post and found supporters in the Productivity Commission and the Australian competition watchdog (the ACCC).

There are examples aplenty of countries which have done so. Britain privatised the Royal Mail in 2013. Japan Post, which became a government-owned corporation in 2003, was privatised in 2007 and listed on the stock exchange in 2016. Deutsche Post was privatised in 2000.

Australia Post was ranked fourth in a survey of the world’s best postal services, interestingly led by the government-owned and operated US Postal Service

While Australia Post competes with the digital world by offering an array of electronic services, most people just want to post a letter, card or parcel to someone and trust it will arrive within the week.

So while we have cancelled our private mailbox, we can still rely on the humble postie delivering to our letter box. They deserve a medal, going out in all weathers, dodging swooping magpies, skateboarders and hostile dogs. We were given updated figures that show there are 11,000 ‘posties’ servicing 11, 240 postal routes around Australia. Motorcycles are used for delivery on about 6,000 routes, bicycles on 900 routes and about 900 intrepid posties walk their routes, all delivering to 11.6 million locations.

On a round-Australia trip in 2015, we encountered a group of 40 men and women riding 110cc ex-‘postie’ bikes from Brisbane to Adelaide via Birdsville and remote desert roads. Members of the group paid about $5,000 each for the privilege. The cost included an ex-‘postie’ bike, all accommodation and support while en-route and a flight home. Riders were encouraged to donate their bikes to Rotary at the end of the ride.

This seems a worthier use of energy than complaining (futilely) about Australia Post and its ongoing quest for profit. You could instead enjoy a vicarious few weeks experiencing much what it must feel like to be an all-weather ‘postie’. You could send postcards to your friends from every destination (at $1 a time), confident in Australia Post’s claim that it delivers 96.2% of domestic mail on time.


If it doesn’t rain soon, mate

Baroon Pocket Dam March 8, 2017 (Photos by Bob & Laurel Wilson)

Conversations in the street of any Australian town often involve the weather, which over the past four months has been bereft of rain or “dry” (pronounced “droy.”

Tim: “How’s things, Harold?

Harold: “Droy, mate!”

Tim: “Got 10 points last night – hardly worth measurin’.”

Harold: “How’re dams holdin?”

Tim: “Nothin’ but mud and mosquitos.”

Mrs Harold: “If it doesn’t rain soon, mate, we’re gonna move back to the town.”

The latter is the narrator’s refrain from one of my songs; the laconic farmer, chin up as usual, watching the ABC. He’s being harassed by the banks, making do with pumpkin scones and home brew and tells the wife that if she must pay bills, pay the one with the lawyer’s letter – today.

Australian farmers are well-used to Continue reading “If it doesn’t rain soon, mate”

In praise of small towns

By Laurel Wilson

I may have said (some dozens of times) how much I enjoy living in the lovely little Sunshine Coast hinterland town of Maleny. We moved here nearly 14 years ago, having had enough of the noise and hassle of the big city. In looking for an alternative to the often indifferent and isolating city suburbs, I told Bob that I wanted to live somewhere that, if I fell over in the street, people would not just ignore me and/or walk over the top of my prone figure. (Photo Qld Health Dept)

Fortunately, neither of us has actually fallen over in the street (though we’ve had our share of accidents – see below). However, we did recently witness an unfortunate who tripped over one of the bollards which are strategically placed to prevent cars from mounting the footpath when parking in the peculiar ‘back in’ manner that prevails in Maleny. The unfortunate trip-ee had barely hit the bitumen before at least three people rushed to her aid and helped her up, having ascertained that nothing more serious than a few bruises and hurt pride had occurred.

In general, we’re both country bumpkins and prefer the P&Q of small town life. Not that it’s ever boring – if so inclined, it’s possible to go out nearly every night of the week and on weekends there is often an ‘approach-approach’ conflict trying to decide which attractive option will win out.

Take this coming weekend for instance. The local Film Society is showing not one, but two films at the Maleny Community Centre on Saturday 16th April – a matinee with the film ‘Tanna’ – ‘a classic tale of forbidden love’, set on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu. Then at 6pm, you can get a light meal, catered by one of the several local restaurants, followed by the film ‘Looking for Grace’.

If music is more your thing, you would regret news of the demise of the iconic ‘UpFront Club’. However, it is understood that the café will soon re-open under a new name and new management, but with an indication that music will play an important role. Meanwhile, local music promoter Paul ‘Richo’ Richardson is bringing country music stars Kevin Bennett, Lyn Bowtell and Felicity Urquhart to the local RSL hall on Saturday night.  There’s also a Ukulele festival on all weekend at nearby Kenilworth.

Market-goers are well catered for also. The Blackall Range growers’ market at Witta, a few kms out of town, is on the third Saturday of every month, while the RSL is also the venue for the weekly Sunday morning market.

Visitors and locals alike make good use of the Maleny Volunteer Information Centre (to use its full title) to find out about local events and ‘things to do’ in general. The ‘Info Centre’ operates out of a ground floor shop at the Maleny Community Centre, which is in the main street. I volunteer there a couple of times a month and it’s always enjoyable to let visitors know about the many attractions and activities in the area.

For a small town, facilities are quite impressive. We are lucky to still have a local hospital – the Maleny Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital. (It would be a foolish bean-counter who tried to close this hospital, on the grounds of ‘efficiency’. Malenyites are sometimes divided over what is good for the town, but this would be one battle that would surely unite the place).

The hospital offers 24 hour a day accident and emergency services, along with medical, palliative care, pharmacy, and a rehabilitation unit. And it still has a kitchen, making meals for the patients as well as for Meals on Wheels.

Bob and I can both vouch for the fine level of care and attention we received there – Bob after his argument several years ago with a small but upset Red-bellied black snake and some years later with an even smaller, but much nastier critter – a paralysis tick, to which he had an allergic reaction. Just prior to Christmas a couple of years ago, I misjudged my footing, fell down some steps and rammed my head into a door frame. All three incidents occasioned visits to our local A&E, where we were treated very promptly and professionally.

I have a small role to play in our local Meals on Wheels organisation, so am occasionally at the back door on the way to the kitchen. There’s a blackboard and chalk outside the door and various wits are known to add droll comments, sometimes about issues of the day (e.g. ‘go the Blues’) sometimes just something to bring a smile. On one day the question at the top of the board was “What makes you happy?” The board was nearly full with several responses, so I reckon that says something pretty positive about the staff at the hospital – a random sample:

“Going on a long walk”; “Being married for 40 years and still in love”; “Music” (I wonder who wrote that?); “Beating the boys at cards”.

A picturesque area, lots of local walking tracks, mild climate, a house close to town, good neighbours, several friends in the local area, a wide variety of activities and within an easy drive to the beach, or even Brisbane, when we are so-inclined. That’s why we love living in this small town. (The nasty little biting ticks and the loud, love-struck Channel-Billed Cuckoo, with his persistent one-note call, are just there to remind us that nowhere’s perfect…)