Ticks – more often than not, the name invites a general feeling of disgust and frustration. And why shouldn’t it? These little buggers are notorious for spreading Lyme disease, along with other tick-borne infections. Obviously, there isn’t anything good about getting bit. Or is there?
According to a 2017 study at the University of Oxford in the UK, there might be one benefit.1 It has to do with heart disease, the number one cause of death for American men and women.2 Sounds strange? Well, that’s science for you!
Why Tick Bites Go Unnoticed
When a tick bites you, it’s on a mission to eat. And what’s its meal of choice? Blood. To latch onto your skin, the tick secretes anesthetic saliva.3 Tick saliva contains peptides, which are short chains of amino acids. Peptides prevent inflammation of the skin and “mask” tick bites. And when your skin isn’t inflamed, you won’t feel the itch or the irritation that you would after a normal bug bite. This way, the tick bite goes unnoticed. How sneaky is that?
Tick Saliva And Heart Inflammation
Myocarditis is the inflammation of the heart muscle that may or may not cause any noticeable symptoms. Signs, if any, include chest pain, fever, fatigue, joint pain, and rapid breathing.4 This condition could be the result of infected tick bites. And if left untreated, it could lead to sudden death!
The proteins present in tick saliva are the cause of myocarditis. But, when lab-cultured tick proteins are administered in minor amounts, they could help in the treatment of this condition! Although we need more research to study on how the saliva works on the inflamed heart muscle, we know that it is beneficial. Other types of inflammation (like arthritis and pancreatitis) might also benefit from tick saliva.5 That’s not to say any random tick bite will cure inflammation – myocarditis or otherwise. So don’t go looking for one! In fact, it’s always safe to stay away from ticks.
How To Prevent Tick Bites
Ticks are most active from April to September, but you always need to be on alert. These steps will limit your risk of getting bit.
1. Avoid Woody Areas
While hiking, stick to the center of trails. Don’t walk through wooded, bushy areas with high grasses. This is where ticks hang out. Be extra careful if you live in the woods. To be safe, regularly trim the grass in your backyard.
2. Use Bug Repellant
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) suggests using repellants with over 20% of DEET, picaridin, or IR3535 on exposed skin.6 But if you’re concerned about irritation, use natural remedies such as wild tomato plant oil or garlic oil. A mix of rosemary, lemongrass, cedar, peppermint, thyme, and geraniol will also help.7
3. Do A Tick Check
After coming indoors, check your entire body. Look in your hair, behind the knees, and other inconspicuous places. Also, take a shower within 2 hours. This will make it easy to do a tick check.8
Tick saliva could prevent heart inflammation. But since there isn’t enough research to prove this, your best bet is still to stay away from ticks and prevent tick bites.
|↑1, ↑5||Singh, Kamayani, Graham Davies, Yara Alenazi, James RO Eaton, Akane Kawamura, and Shoumo Bhattacharya. “Yeast surface display identifies a family of evasins from ticks with novel polyvalent CC chemokine-binding activities.” Scientific Reports 7 (2017).|
|↑2||Heart Disease Facts. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.|
|↑3||Life Cycle of Hard Ticks that Spread Disease. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention|
|↑4||Myocarditis. MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine.|
|↑6, ↑8||Preventing tick bites. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.|
|↑7||Natural Tick Repellents and Pesticides. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.|