What Diseases Do Ticks Carry? 7 Illnesses To Be Aware Of
If you're excited about the summer sun and the possibility of hiking and going to the lake, it's worth being careful: summer is also tick season. And the U.S. has a variety of tick-borne diseases that can be transmitted by tick bite and are classified as pretty serious. Even if you're not aware that you've been bitten by a tick, if you show up to a doctor with mysterious flu-like symptoms, fatigue, chills or other problems, it's worth mentioning if you've spent any time in mountainous areas, places with lots of grasses or parkland.
Ticks are in a lot of places; they tend to go where livestock and animal populations go, as that's how they survive. A study in 2012 found that ticks bearing Lyme disease, the most common tick-borne illness, were now being found in half of all U.S. counties, so just because you don't believe you live in "tick country" doesn't mean you shouldn't take precautions. Wear tick repellent, cover your legs as much as possible, stay in the center of trails and paths rather than traipsing through bushland, and inspect your clothes and body after you come in for any signs of ticks or bites. And if you're feeling off, speak with your doctor ASAP. Here are seven diseases carried by ticks that you should be aware of.
1. Alpha-Gal Sensitivity
This is an interesting new illness that's only been discovered recently, and the circumstances behind it are unexpected. It turns out that lone star ticks, which are mostly found on the east coast and inland according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, have bites that can cause a spike in your sensitivity to a sugar molecule called alpha-gal. Alpha-gal is found in high amounts in meat, so the tick bites can effectively cause a meat allergy. This phenomenon has only been on the books since 2004, and tick bite specialists have been noting a rise in cases as lone star ticks spread further across the U.S. Alpha-gal is also found in other mammal products like milk, but how you react to a bite can vary — some people will find themselves intolerant to a lot of different things, while others will barely react at all. Speak with your doctor if you notice any new sensitivities, and have been to areas where exposure to ticks are common.
2. Lyme Disease
The classic tick-borne disease is Lyme disease, which most often shows up with its telltale "bullseye" red and white rash around the bite itself. Lyme, which is a bacterial infection, also causes fatigue, fever, joint pain, swollen glands and inflammation of the facial nerve, and needs to be treated ASAP. Even if you've had a prescription delivered right away, people who've contracted Lyme are also known to develop post-treatment Lyme disease, which means that Lyme symptoms occur long-term without any noticeable relief. If you've been bitten by a tick, had treatment for Lyme and haven't noticed any improvement after months, go see a doctor armed with potential ideas about post-treatment Lyme.
Babesiosis, according to the CDC, is typically spread by deer ticks, which have exceptionally small bites that might not be noticed when you've come back from a hike. It's particularly common in areas around New England, and is pretty rare. The bacteria itself infects your red blood cells, and symptoms can be non-existent or feel a little like flu: fever, sweats, chills, nausea, fatigue and anemia. It's actually a thing to be infected by Lyme and babesiosis at the same time if you're really unlucky, but babesiosis is more easily cured by antibiotics. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, a trip to the doctor can help you tell if it's babesiosis.
Ehrlichiosis is named for the Nobel Prize winning biologist Paul Ehrlich, who discovered the tick-borne illness in South Africa. (No, that didn't net him the Nobel; he also came up with the first cure for syphilis.) Ehrlichiosis, according to MayoClinic, is transmitted primarily by the lone star tick, which can carry ehrlichia bacteria that it's picked up from feeding on the blood of other animals.
It's actually an umbrella term for several separate illnesses caused by a variety of erlichia bacteria; the CDC notes that Ehrlichia chaffeensis and Ehrlichia ewingii are the two most common ones in the U.S. It shows up with flu-like symptoms, but is distinguished by the fact that it also causes peoples' eyes to redden, and that it causes a severe rash in 60 percent of children. The CDC classifies it as an emergency, as it's been known to be fatal if untreated; if you've been diagnosed you'll be put on an immediate dosage of the antibiotic doxycycline.
Human granulocytic anaplasmosis, as it's technically called, is mostly spread by deer ticks and black-legged ticks. The American Lyme Disease Foundation says it's mostly found in New England, northern America and California, and it's often hard to diagnose because the symptoms can be mistaken for other things and don't show up until up to 2 weeks after a bite. It's rare that anaplasmosis shows up with a rash, but in many other ways it resembles Ehrlichiosis, with flu-like symptoms including chills and fever. Like many other tick-borne diseases, it's particularly dangerous in people who've got compromised immune systems, and needs to be treated with antibiotics. If you have reason to believe you may have contracted anaplasmosis, talk to your doctor ASAP.
6. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
This is an excellent name for a blues band, but it's not a particularly nice illness. Despite its name, it's not just found in the Rocky Mountains — MayoClinic notes that cases have been identified in Canada and the south-east of the U.S. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is part of a group of fevers called the "spotted fevers", or rickettsia, and is transmitted by the dog tick, Rocky Mountain wood tick and brown dog tick. The CDC notes that the big sign of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is a huge headache that comes on 2 to 4 days after going into a tick-heavy area, accompanied by a spotty rash. If it's not treated with antibiotics it can cause serious organ damage and nerve problems.
7. Tick-Borne Relapsing Fever
Do not, repeat, do not sleep in that charming rustic cabin you've just found in the woods in the west of the U.S. The CDC identifies that as the main cause of tick-borne relapsing fever, which is spread by "soft" ticks that live in the nests of animals like squirrels. Wherever there are woodland animal nests, including caves and fallen trees, there are likely soft ticks, and it's not worth the pain. Tick-borne relapsing fever is named for the distinctive pattern of its symptoms: up to 8 days after a bite, fever will appear, last three days, disappear for a week, then appear again and again, each time for the same three-day period. You can get the same symptoms from a variant that's carried by lice — but if you've been wandering the mountains napping near chipmunk nests, you've likely found your culprit.
If you do notice a tick bite while you're out, the National Health Service of the UK advises that you should remove the tick itself as quickly as possible with tweezers, and then wait for symptoms. If you think there's a chance you have a tick-borne illness, get yourself to your doctor or emergency clinic quickly, no waiting; lack of timely treatment can cause some serious side effects.