Health Matters | Four Tick-Borne Illness You Should Know

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Four Tick-Borne Illness You Should Know

Ticks are one of the most common parasites in the United States. Anyone who goes outdoors or lives with pets has the potential to be bitten by the blood-sucking arachnid. While just the thought of a tick is enough to scare many people, the real reason for concern is the health dangers that can come with a tick bite. Here are four tick-borne illnesses commonly reported in the mid-Atlantic:

Lyme disease is the most commonly reported tick-borne illness in the United States of America. It is transmitted through the bite of deer ticks. In most cases, the tick must be attached for 36–48 hours or more before the Lyme disease bacterium is transmitted. Because of this, most humans are infected by the bites of immature ticks called nymphs. These ticks are harder to see and less likely to be quickly removed. If you are at risk of getting a tick bite, it is important to perform a full tick check daily.

Typical symptoms of Lyme disease may, but not always, include fever, headache, fatigue, muscle pains, and an identifiable rash called Erythema chronicum migrans. This rash occurs in 70–80% of infected persons and has a bulls-eye appearance. The rash may also feel warm to the touch but is rarely itchy or painful.

Lyme disease is usually treated with antibiotics, and patients treated in the early stages of Lyme disease typically recover rapidly and completely. Knowing the symptoms and identifying them early is a key to treating Lyme disease successfully.

Anaplasmosis is a recently identified disease with cases increasing since the mid-1990s. This disease is present along the east coast and is especially prevalent in New England.

Symptoms typically do not appear for 1–2 weeks after the bite of an infected tick. Few people with the disease experience all of its symptoms, and the number and combination of symptoms varies among individuals. The commonly seen symptoms associated with Anaplasmosis include:
  • fever
  • headache
  • muscle pain
  • general discomfort or uneasiness
  • chills
  • nausea/abdominal
  • cough
  • confusion
  • rash (rare)

Ehrlichiosis is a term used to describe several bacterial diseases that affect animals and humans. There are three different variations of Ehrlichiosis in the United States, and two of them are spread by the lone star tick, a common tick on the East coast. This tick-borne illness is of particular concern to those in the mid-Atlantic, with the highest instance rates concentrated along a band from Arkansas to Virginia, including Delaware, Maryland, and North Carolina. Lone star tick bites are typically painless, and about half of the people who develop Ehrlichiosis may not remember being bitten by a tick.

Typically symptoms develop 1–2 weeks after being bitten by an infected tick. The following symptoms are often seen with this disease; however, the combination or severity of the symptoms varies among individuals:
  • fever
  • headache
  • chills
  • general discomfort or uneasiness
  • nausea/vomiting/diarrhea
  • rash (up to 60% of children, but only 30% of adults)

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) is a potentially fatal human illness caused by a tick-borne bacterium. Despite its name, this disease can be contracted almost anywhere in the United States. Initial symptoms of RMSF typically begin 2–14 days after being bitten by an infected tick. The initial symptoms often include fever and headache, prompting most people to visit a health provider during the first few days. However, the nonspecific nature of the symptoms often results in several visits with a physician before a final diagnosis is made.

Patient’s usually experience a varying combination of the following symptoms:
  • fever
  • rash occurring 2–5 days after onset of fever
  • headache
  • nausea and vomiting
  • abdominal pain
  • muscle pain

The best way to avoid these diseases is to be proactive. Avoid wooded and bushy areas with high grass. If you go hiking, stick to marked paths and try to walk in the center of the trail. If possible, tuck your shirt inside of your pants and your pant legs inside of your socks. The use of repellents that contain 20% or more DEET is also a good preventative measure. Give yourself, your children, and your pets a thorough tick inspection any time that you or they have been outside.

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