Awareness of tick-borne diseases has increased over the years. Still, many people are unfamiliar with the diseases that can be transmitted to humans or the symptoms often associated with them. The following is a brief description of the most common diseases spread by ticks. This is not an exhaustive list and if you think you may have contracted one of these diseases please consult a physician at once.
- Lyme Disease
Lyme disease is the most common and well-known tick-borne illness. Often called “the great imitator,” Lyme disease can present a variety of symptoms that resemble those of other illnesses, including chronic fatigue, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), depression, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Early on, many patients experience common flu-like symptoms, which may include the following:
•A stiff neck
Lyme disease can be treated with antibiotics, but some patients may continue to experience some symptoms even after treatment and may require longer-term treatment. If Lyme disease remains untreated, the bacteria may begin to spread and affect multiple areas of the body, including the nervous system, joints, eyes, brain, and heart.
2. Tick-borne relapsing fever (TBRF)
Tick-Borne Relapsing Fever (TBRF) is an infectious disease that shares some similarities to Lyme disease. Both Lyme disease and TBRF have similar initial flu-like symptoms; however, TBRF symptoms typically follow a very specific pattern that involves the onset of a high fever lasting three to five days, followed by a brief recovery of approximately seven days, followed by another three days of fever. Without treatment, this sequence can repeat several times. Additional symptoms to watch for include the following:
•Muscle and joint aches
•Nausea and vomiting
Similarly to Lyme disease, TBRF can be diagnosed with a blood test and treated with antibiotics. In a little more than half of all TBRF cases1, patients develop a reaction to the drugs, called a Jarisch–Herxheimer reaction
Babesiosis is a parasitic infection. Once a host is infected, the parasites multiply within red blood cells. As they develop, they form a cross inside the cell—a distinctive pattern that helps doctors differentiate babesiosis from malaria. Studies show that 25 to 50 percent of all infected individuals do not show symptoms. Although babesiosis can cause death, the most common symptoms include the following:
•Hemoglobinuria (ruptured red blood cells, frequently causing pink urine)
Treatment of babesiosis typically involves a 14-day course of antibiotics. It can take longer if a patient is immunosuppressed or has a coinfection such as Lyme disease. Following treatment, most patients’ red blood cell levels return to normal.
Bartonellosis is an infectious disease caused by Bartonella bacteria. It targets endothelial cells, which are found within vein walls. Nineteen different species of the Bartonella bacteria exist, but only seven can be transferred to humans.
Bartonella bacteria can cause a wide range of symptoms, depending on the strain of Bartonella contracted. Two of the most well-known diseases caused by Bartonella are cat-scratch disease (B. henselae) and trench fever (B. quintana). Symptoms of cat scratch disease are enlarged lymph nodes and puss at the infection site. Trench fever typically leads to bouts of fever that can last from two to six weeks.
Doctors use antibiotics to treat Bartonellosis, but the type of drug and course duration depends on the specific strain of Bartonella bacteria found. Because some strains can lead to chronic health issues, it is important to see your healthcare provider as quickly as possible if you start feeling ill after a tick bite.
Ehrlichiosis is an infection of the white blood cells caused by the Ehrlichia bacteria. Five species of Ehrlichia bacteria can infect humans. Infections can occur year round, but most cases of ehrlichiosis are reported at the peak of tick season.
Similar to Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis can be easily confused with other infections, including the flu. Common symptoms include the following:
Infections caused by Ehrlichia bacteria are typically treated with antibiotics. If treated effectively, chances are excellent for a full recovery. However, as with all tick-borne illnesses, it is important to consult your healthcare provider as soon as possible if you have been bitten by a tick and notice symptoms that could indicate ehrlichiosis.
Anaplasmosis has symptoms similar to those of ehrlichiosis, and it typically occurs within one to two weeks following an infectious tick bite. A rash can sometimes develop, but it is rare and may indicate a coinfection with another tick-borne illness such as Lyme disease. Common symptoms include the following:
•Muscle aches and pain
Doxycycline, a specific type of antibiotic, is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as the first-line treatment for both adults and children of all ages who are diagnosed with anaplasmosis. If treated with doxycycline or other tetracyclines within the first five days of disease onset, a patient’s fever subsides within one to three days
7. Rickettsiosis (Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever)
Rickettsiosis is most prevalent in the Southeast United States, with the number of reported cases diminishing the farther away one gets from this region. This bacterial infection has two main branches: typhus and spotted fever. Within the spotted fever branch, Rocky Mountain spotted fever is the best known and most deadly form of rickettsiosis.
The bacterium initially lives within a single cell of the person it infects; but as it grows, it pushes out from the center, rupturing the cell wall and entering the cell next to it. In effect, the bacteria kill the cells as they outgrow them. Rickettsiosis will continue this pattern while it travels toward the skin, heart, and brain.
Because there are so many different species of rickettsiosis, symptoms can be hard to narrow down to any single list. However, early indicators of the disease often include the following:
•Flu-like symptoms, such as fever, chills, headache, nausea, and vomiting
In the past, rickettsiosis was fatal for up to 30 percent of those infected. However, new, more effective treatments have since decreased that percentage significantly, so that today just 3 to 5 percent of infections result in death. But this is still a very serious disease that no one should take lightly. Treatment is often immediate and aggressive, involving strong antibiotics and close, continuous monitoring of symptoms.
8. Colorado Tick Fever
Colorado tick fever is a viral infection. It is spread by the bite of the Rocky Mountain wood tick.
Symptoms of Colorado tick fever most often start 3 to 6 days after the tick bite. A sudden fever continues for 3 days, goes away, and then comes back 1 to 3 days later for another few days. Other symptoms include:
•Feeling weak all over and muscle aches
•Headache behind the eyes
•Lethargy (sleepiness) or confusion
•Nausea and vomiting
•Rash (maybe light colored)
•Sensitivity to light (photophobia)
There are no specific treatments for this viral infection. It usually goes away on its own.
9. Heartland Virus
The mysterious Heartland Virus, named after a medical center in St. Joseph, Missouri, does not have many victims to date but doctors are warning that as a tick-borne illness it may create potential issues for people who get it while communing with nature. Out of six patients identified initially four required hospitalizations, and one died, though this person may have had other contributing health factors.
• Low blood platelets
• Low white blood cell count
There are no vaccines or medications to prevent or treat the infection with Heartland virus. Antibiotics do not treat viruses. Healthcare providers might be able to provide medications and other care to help treat symptoms. Some patients may need to be hospitalized for intravenous fluids and treatment for pain, fever, or other related problems.
10. Alpha-Gal Allergy
Alpha-gal allergy is also known as a meat allergy. People bitten by the lone star tick can develop an allergy to a sugar molecule called alpha-gal, which is found in red meats. Most food allergy symptoms develop within a half hour. People with the alpha-gal allergy showed symptoms between three to six hours after eating meat.
Unlike most food allergies, in some people, the alpha-gal allergy may recede over time, as long as the person is not bitten by another tick. The recovery period can take 8 months to 5 years