Ticks are one of the most common parasites found in the United States, and anyone (pets included) who spends time outdoors is likely to be bitten by this arachnid which feeds on blood. While the thought of a tick is enough to alarm many people, the real reason for concern is the sicknesses that these bugs can cause. Here are the four most common tick-borne illnesses reported in the mid-Atlantic States according to the CDC and symptoms you should be aware of.

1. LYME DISEASE

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 it transmits the Lyme disease bacterium. Because of this, most humans are infected by the bites of immature ticks called nymphs, which are harder to see and less likely to be removed quickly. If you are at risk of getting a tick bite, performing a full tick check daily is important.

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 make a quick and complete recovery. Knowing the symptoms and identifying them early is key to treating Lyme disease successfully.

2. ANAPLASMOSIS

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 being bitten by 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
  • cough
  • confusion
  • rash (rare)

3. EHRLICHIOSIS

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 bite of a lone star tick, a common tick found on the East Coast. This tick-borne illness is of particular concern to those in the mid-Atlantic, with the highest incidence 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)

4. ROCKY MOUNTAIN SPOTTED FEVER

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 care 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.

Patients usually experience a varying combination of the following symptoms:

  • fever
  • rash occurring 2-4 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 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. Using repellents that contain 20% or more DEET is also a good preventative measure. Give yourself, your children, and your pets a thorough tick inspection after spending any time outside. All the above tick-borne illnesses can be treated with antibiotics, so seek medical attention if you have concerns or symptoms.


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