Determining the Duration of Ixodes scapularis (Acari: Ixodidae) Attachment to Tick-Bite Victims


J. Med. Entomol. 32(6): 853-858 (1995)

The duration of tick attachment is one factor associated with risk for human infection caused by several tick-borne pathogens. We measured tick engorgement indices at known time intervals after tick attachment and used these indices to determine the length of time that ticks were attached to tick-bite victims in selected Rhode Island and Pennsylvania communities where the agents of Lyme disease and human babesiosis occur. The total body length and width as well as the length and width of the scutum were measured on nymphal and adult female Ixodes scapularis Say removed from laboratory animals at 0, 12, 24, 36, 48, 60, and 72 h after their attachment. Three engorgement indices were calculated at each time interval. In addition, engorgement indices measurements were recorded for 504 ticks submitted to a commercial laboratory for pathogen detection testing between 1990 and 1992. No detectable change was observed in the average engorgement indices for either nymphal or adult ticks between 0 and 24 h of attachment using any of the engorgement indices. After 24 h of tick attachment, all engorgement indices continuously increased; average indices for nymphs attached 36, 48, and 60 h were significantly different from those attached S24 h and from each other. Similarly, average engorgement indices for adult ticks attached S36 h were significantly different from those attached for 48 h or more. More than 60% of tick-bite victims removed adult ticks by 36 h of attachment, but only 10% found and removed the smaller nymphal ticks within the first 24 h of tick feeding. The duration of tick attachment may serve as a useful predictor of risk for acquiring various infections, such as Lyme disease and babesiosis, transmitted by /. scapularis. Regression equations developed herein correlate tick engorgement indices with duration of feeding. A table containing specific engorgement index prediction intervals calculated for both nymphs and adults will allow the practitioner or clinical laboratory to use easily measured tick engorgement indices to predict transmission risk by determining the duration of feeding by individual ticks.