In the United States, a number of different variety of ticks carry pathogens that can cause human illness and disease, more than just Lyme disease. Dr. Mason Gomberg, a pediatrician in our Westchester Health Pediatrics group, has recently written a blog which lists the most common tick-borne diseases specific to the Northeast (where our offices are located and where most of our readers live) and how to avoid contracting these diseases.
Most common tick-borne diseases
- Lyme disease (the best-known tick-borne disease) is transmitted by the blacklegged tick in the Northeast and upper Midwest.
- Ehrlichiosis is the general name used to describe several bacterial diseases that affect animals and humans, transmitted by the Lone Star tick. Ehrlichiosis is most frequently contracted in the southeastern and south-central United States, from the eastern seaboard extending westward to Texas.
- Borrelia miyamotoi infection is transmitted by the blacklegged tick in areas of the country similar to that of Lyme disease (Northeast and upper Midwest).
- Anaplasmosis is transmitted to humans by tick bites primarily from the blacklegged tick in the Northeast and upper Midwest.
- Babesiosis is caused by microscopic parasites that infect red blood cells. Most human cases of babesiosis in the U.S. are transmitted by the blacklegged tick and is found primarily in the Northeast and upper Midwest.
- Powassan disease is transmitted by the blacklegged tick and the groundhog tick. Cases have been reported primarily in the Northeast and Great Lakes regions.
- STARI (Southern tick-associated rash illness) is transmitted by the Lone Star tick, found in the southeastern and eastern U.S.
- Tularemia is transmitted to humans by the American dog tick, the Rocky Mountain wood tick and the Lone Star tick, and it occurs throughout the U.S.
Be on the lookout for these symptoms of tick-related illnesses
Symptoms of tick-borne diseases can range from mild symptoms that are treatable at home to severe infections requiring hospitalization. Although easily treated with antibiotics, they can be difficult for physicians to diagnose. However, early recognition and treatment of the infection decreases the risk of serious complications.
Many tick-borne diseases can have similar signs and symptoms. If you have been bitten by a tick and develops the symptoms below within a few weeks, you should see your healthcare provider immediately.
Common symptoms include:
- Fever/chills: With all tick-borne diseases, patients can experience fever of varying degrees and time of onset.
- Aches and pains: These include headache, fatigue and muscle aches. With Lyme disease, you may also experience joint pain. The severity and time of onset of these symptoms can depend on the disease and the patient’s personal tolerance level.
- Rash: Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI) and tularemia can result in distinctive rashes:
The correct way to remove a tick
It’s very important to remove an attached tick as soon as you notice it. NOTE: If a tick is attached to your skin for less than 24 hours, your chance of contracting a disease is extremely small.
- Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.
- Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Do not twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers. If you are unable to remove these easily, leave them alone and let the skin heal.
- After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water.
- Dispose of a live tick by submersing it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet.
- Never crush a tick with your fingers.
- Avoid folklore remedies such as “painting” the tick with nail polish or petroleum jelly, or using a lit match to make the tick detach from the skin. Your goal is to remove the tick as quickly as possible to thwart any disease transmission.
How you can avoid tick bites
While you should try to prevent tick bites year-round, you need to be extra vigilant in warmer months (April-September) when ticks are most active. Remember, ticks are out and about whenever the temperature is above 40 degrees Fahrenheit. To avoid being bitten, follow these simple guidelines:
- Avoid wooded and brushy areas with high grass and leaf litter.
- Find and remove ticks on your body.
- Remove attached ticks quickly and correctly.
- Be on the lookout for fever or rash.
- Prevent ticks on animals with flea/tick collars or other treatments.
- Discourage deer by removing plants that attract them and/or by building barriers or fencing to keep them out. Deer are the main food source of adult ticks.
If you suspect you or someone in your family has been bitten by a tick, please come see us
If you suspect you or a family member has become sick from a tick bite, please make an appointment with Westchester Health to see one of our physicians for an accurate diagnosis and immediate treatment. The sooner we can begin treatment, the faster we can thwart the development of the disease and prevent long-lasting consequences.
To read Dr. Gomberg’s blog in full, click here.