A Clear and Present Danger: Tick-borne Diseases in Europe

Paul Heyman; Christel Cochez; Agnetha Hofhuis; Joke van der Giessen; Hein Sprong; Sarah Rebecca Porter; Bertrand Losson; Claude Saegerman; Oliver Donoso-Mantke; Matthias Niedrig; Anna Papa


Expert Rev Anti Infect Ther. 2010;8(1):33-50. 

In This Article

Ticks & Tick-borne Diseases in the Past

Nowadays, it is increasingly unlikely that man encounters large predators, but an incredible variety of smaller creatures nevertheless make it their business 'to take a bite'. Throughout history, ticks have been condemned for this activity. A reference to – what could be – 'tick fever' was found on a papyrus scroll dating back to the 16th Century B.C.,[1] and an animal drawing dating back to the Queen Hatshepsut III era (15th Century B.C.) shows what were considered to be three ticks attached to a hyena's ear.[2] Aristotle (384–322 B.C.) wrote in his Historia Animalium[301] that "ticks are generated from couch grass" and he also described ticks as a "disgusting parasitic animal". Pliny the Elder (23–79 A.D.) in his Historia Naturalis referred to "an animal living on blood with its head always fixed and swelling, being one of the animals which has no exit (i.e., anus) for its food, bursts with over-repletion and dies from actual nourishment". He also added that "this animal is frequent on cattle, sometimes on dogs, on sheep and goats only these animals are found". There is little doubt that ticks and their bites were also already considered as harmful, as Marcus Porcius Cato (234–149 B.C.) suggested in De Agri Cultura (On Farming or On Agriculture), treatments whereby "there will be no sores and the wool will be more plentiful and in better condition and the ticks (ricini) will not be troublesome". Given the fact that current science does not appear to effectively prevent, treat or control tick-borne diseases, Cato's methods for treatment were probably also not entirely effective.[3] The prehistoric presence of ticks in the environment was described in artifacts from the Anazasi culture (400–1300 A.D.),[4] and speculations about the illness of the 12th Century mystica, Julian of Norwich, pointed to tick paralysis.[5] Thomas Moffett (1553–1604), who was most likely the spiritual father of 'Little Miss Muffett', whose encounter with a giant spider is told in the popular British nursery rhyme, was also the author of "Insectorum, Sive, Minimorum Animalium Theatrum" in which he included a chapter on ticks (tikes). Theobald Smith and Frederick Kilbourne first demonstrated (1889–1893) that ticks were responsible for transmitting diseases with their experiments on transmission by Boophilus annulatus of Babesia bigemina in cattle[6] – from then on attention to tick-borne diseases heightened.[7–10]