Tick diseases: 5 ways a tiny insect can knock you out

Symptoms of Lyme and other tick diseases to watch for

Last updated: October 01, 2015 04:15 PM

You probably know that Lyme disease is the scourge of the Northeast and upper Midwest. But did you know that most cases of Rocky Mountain spotted fever are reported in six states that are nowhere near that mountain range?  

It's important to keep up your guard for tick diseases even now, as ticks can be active as long as temperatures are 40° F or higher, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Everyone should take precautions, but especially hunters, hikers, and people cleaning up fall leaves.

One of the best ways to prevent tick bites in the first place is to apply insect repellent. “A lot of people are nervous about using it on their children,” says Christina Nelson, M.D., a medical epidemiologist in the CDC’s bacterial diseases branch in the Division of Vector-borne Diseases. “But they’re safe and effective when used appropriately. I use them on my own children and I think they’re important.” Of the repellents Consumer Reports tested, products containing 20 percent picaridin, 30 percent oil of lemon eucalyptus, and 15 percent deet were top performers.

Tick diseases are not to be taken lightly. If left untreated, a Lyme disease infection can spread to your joints, heart, and the nervous system. Rocky Mountain spotted fever can become deadly if not treated in the first few days.

Following are five of the most common tick diseases, where they occur most often, symptoms to watch for, and treatment suggestions from our medical experts.

Blacklegged (deer) tick.

Lyme disease

Spread by: Blacklegged (deer) tick.

Symptoms: Three to 30 days after a bite, watch out for a red, expanding rash, fatigue, chills, fever, headache, muscle and joint aches, and swollen lymph nodes.

Where it occurs: The most common of all tick diseases, it causes about 300,000 illnesses every year, mostly in these 14 states: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Treatment: Patients treated with certain antibiotics in the early stages of Lyme disease usually recover rapidly and completely. Antibiotics commonly used include doxycycline, amoxicillin, or cefuroxime axetil.

Anaplasmosis

Spread by: Blacklegged (deer) tick and western blacklegged tick.

Symptoms: One to two weeks after a bite, watch for fever, headache, muscle pain, chills, nausea, abdominal pain, cough, and confusion.

Where it occurs: The states that account for 90 percent of all reported cases are: Connecticut, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin.

Treatment: Anaplasmosis is a serious illness that can be fatal if not treated correctly, even in previously healthy people. Doxycycline is the treatment of choice for adults and children of all ages and should be used immediately whenever anaplasmosis is suspected.

Babesiosis

Spread by: Blacklegged (deer) tick.

Symptoms: Watch for fever, chills, sweats, headache, body aches, loss of appetite, nausea, and fatigue. Symptoms can start within a week or so but may take somewhat longer.

Where it occurs: The states that account for 95 percent of all reported casess are: Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin.  

Treatment: Babesiosis usually is treated for at least 7 to 10 days with a combination of two prescription medications. 

What's your tick-fighting strategy?

Do you apply insect repellent before a walk in the woods? Share your advice below.

Erlichiosis

Spread by: Lone-star tick.

Symptoms: One to two weeks after a tick bite, watch for fever, headache, fatigue, and muscle aches.

Where it occurs: Most cases are found in Arkansas, Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Treatment: Ehrlichiosis is a serious illness that can be fatal if not treated correctly, even in previously healthy people. Doxycycline is the treatment of choice for adults and children of all ages and should be used immediately whenever ehrlichiosis is suspected.

Rocky Mountain spotted fever

Spread by: American dog tick, Rocky Mountain wood tick, and the brown dog tick.

Symptoms: Two to 14 days after a tick bite, watch for fever, headache, abdominal pain, vomiting, and muscle pain. A rash may also develop, but is often absent in the first few days.

Where it occurs: Most cases are found in Arkansas, Delaware, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.

Treatment: Rocky Mountain spotted fever is a serious illness which can be rapidly fatal, even among previously healthy individuals, if not treated in the first few days of symptoms. Doxycycline is the treatment of choice for adults and children of all ages and should be used immediately whenever this disease is suspected.

—Sue Byrne (@SueCRHealth)

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