Ticks are much more dangerous than we think. This recent article from NPR talks about a new virus, called the Heartland virus that is transmitted by ticks. As the years go on we will find more diseases that are related to tick borne illness.
Common Tick Borne Illnesses
Transmitted by the black-legged tick or deer tick is probably the best known of the tick diseases. Symptoms are a bullet shaped rash, fatigue, fever, headaches and joint pain. The infection can spread to the heart and nervous system (brain).
Also transmitted by the black-legged tick is not a bacterial infection but a parasite infection. Babesiosis is common in Northeast and Midwest. Some people are symptom free. Symptoms are similar to Lyme disease. Complications can include low blood pressure, kidney problems, liver problems and hemolytic anemia. While the symptoms may be mild it can be life-threatening to the elderly, people with weak immune systems and people with no spleen.
Transmitted by the black-legged tick as well as western black-legged tick it used to be called human granulocytic ehrlichiosis. Symptoms include fever, headaches, muscles aches and chills that start 1-2 weeks after bite.
Ehrlichiosis is transmitted mainly by the lone star tick. Symptoms include fever, muscle aches, fatigue and headaches which occur 1-2 weeks after initial tick bite. Some studies suggest that endemic areas may have 15% to 36% of the population infected. The disease is not always recognized.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
Transmitted by the American dog tick, Rocky Mountain wood tick and brown dog tick it is also known as Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Symptoms include fever, fatigue, muscles aches, vomiting, abdominal pain and headache. There may be a rash also at the tick bite.
Southern Tick Associated Rash Illness (STARI)
STARI is transmitted by the lone star tick. However the exact cause of this illness is unknown. There is a rash at the tick bite and symptoms may include fever, joint and muscle pain, fatigue, headaches. This disease is geographically limited to the Southwest USA.
There are more diseases that are not as common.
Life Cycle of the Tick
- Larva – these tiny ticks are about the size of the period at the end of this sentence. They are the tick when first born from the egg. They are most active in August and usually attach themselves to smaller mammals and birds. Ticks are not born with disease they get infected at this stage from the animal they attach themselves too.
- Nymph – The next stage of life occurs when the larvae leave their host and then molt into nymphs. The nymph does feed on humans and can spread disease. Most active in springtime. These are the hardest to find due to their smaller size.
- Adult – are most active in the fall. Their peak activity is October and November.
If you find that you have chronic illness with some of the symptoms of any of the above diseases and a history of a tick bite you should consider seeing an infectious disease specialist to have yourself tested and remember that some cases (like STARI) are nearly impossible to diagnose by blood test.