Tick Paralysis in New England
Tick paralysis is the only tick-borne disease not caused by any type of infectious agent; instead, the disease results from exposure to a neurotoxin in the salivary glands of the tick. Tick paralysis is commonly transmitted by the American dog tick, also known as a wood tick and the Rocky Mountain wood tick, though the black-legged or deer tick has also been known to spread the disease.
While cases have also been documented in the Southeast and New England, tick paralysis occurs most frequently in the Western region of the country. The disease follows a seasonal pattern and is more prevalent in the summer months. Though not a common affliction, tick paralysis affects younger children and adult males more often than other demographics. The debilitating disease can also affect domesticated pets and tends to be more commonly found in dogs than cats.
Symptoms of Tick Paralysis
Tick paralysis symptoms start to show within a week of tick attachment and first appear as ataxia, or the lack of voluntary control of muscle movement, characterized by an abnormal gait. Actual paralysis moves up the body from the feet and legs. Other symptoms may precede paralysis and frequently include numbness, lethargy/discomfort, and slowed reflexes. The development of a fever, while common in cases of other tick-borne illnesses, is rarely a symptom of tick paralysis.
In some cases, tick paralysis can become life threatening due to the way the paralyzing condition ascends to the upper body and affects the respiratory muscles. For dogs affected by the disease, symptoms of tick paralysis develop gradually and may include vomiting or regurgitation, high blood pressure, low muscle tone, complete or partial loss of movement, and excessive drooling.
No tests exist to diagnose tick paralysis, which is often confused with Guillain-Barre syndrome due to the rapid onset of muscle weakness and the similar effects of the diseases on the nervous system.
Getting Rid of and Treating Ticks
Although ticks are known to hide in hard-to-reach places on the body, finding, identifying, and removing the tick remains crucial to the treatment of tick paralysis. Once the tick is removed, most patients report marked improvement and recover quickly with proper treatment. Affected pets may require emergency veterinarian care to recover from the more severe symptoms of tick paralysis.