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Illnesses & Symptoms

Tick Borne Diseases

Tick-Borne-Diseases.pngMany people each year are bit by ticks and a small percentage of them acquire a tick-borne disease.  Over the past few years people have become more aware of tick-borne diseases, most notably Lyme disease.  Many other tick-borne infectious diseases are caused by viruses, protozoa, and bacteria of infected ticks.

Many parents worry about infection when a child has a tick bite.  To pass on an infection, a tick must be infected with an organism and be attached to the person for many hours.  Preventing tick bites by avoiding tick-infested areas, wearing clothing that covers all body parts, and using an insect repellant is the primary prevention of tick-borne disease.  The use of DEET-containing compounds on the skin and permethrin on the clothing is the most effective combination against ticks.  It must be at least 30% DEET to be effective against ticks.  After returning indoors, anyone using DEET should wash the affected areas well.  Citronella-based compounds appear to have little benefit against ticks.  Regular inspections of pets also can reduce the incidence of tick exposure.

Carefully examine all parts of the body, especially the head and hair, and clothing after possible exposure.  If they are unable to be removed, medical attention should be sought.  Clean the area well with antibacterial soap and water. 

Tick Removal

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Tweezer Method

Begin by cleaning the area well.  Grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible and pull with a firm, steady motion.  Do not twist or squeeze the body too tightly.  Check closely for retained tick parts in the skin.  

"Drowning" Methods

Petroleum jelly or fingernail polish, inhibit the ability of the tick to move.  The use of isopropyl alcohol might disinfect the bite site, but it has no effect on the tick.  These methods are NOT recommended because they encourage the tick to regurgitate stomach contents into your skin.

Burning Methods

NOT recommended--Burning the tick with hot objects not only endangers the individual’s skin but allows the tick to burst and aerosolize infected body fluids.  Such irritating practices not only fail to detach the tick, but may induce the tick to salivate, defecate, or regurgitate infected fluids into the individual.

After a tick is removed, watch the area for expanding rash.  If a fever develops in the next few weeks, be sure to let the physician know there was a tick bite.  Though most fevers are unrelated to the tick, this is an important history to know.

Some of the infections ticks may carry:

Lyme Disease

Caused by the spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi.  The disease is transmitted by the deer ticks Ixodes scapularis in the East/Midwest and Ixodes pacificus in the West.  Lyme disease has three stages: early localized disease (erythema migrans), early disseminated disease, and late disease.

Nearly 90% of children who have Lyme Disease develop the characteristic rash -erythema migrans, an expanding red rash that looks like a target and starts at the site of the bite.

Early disseminated disease is marked by multiple sites of this rash, though smaller lesions, about 3-5 weeks after the tick exposure.  There might also be paralysis of face muscles, arthritis, headache, tiredness, pink eye type findings, or meningitis.

Late disease consists of recurrent arthritis of large joints, especially the knees.

Overdiagnosis is common, primarily because the tests for Lyme disease are not specific to the disease, with many false positive results.  This means if a test is run on a person not at risk, they might be diagnosed with Lyme Disease even if they do not have it.
  • Antibiotics are not indicated routinely for persons bitten by a deer tick because the risk of Lyme Disease from a recognized bite is low (1% to 2%), and if Lyme Disease develops, it usually is treated easily.
  • The prognosis for children who are treated for Lyme Disease (whatever the stage at the time of presentation) is excellent.


Babesiosis is a protozoal infection transmitted by the deer tick (Ixodes scapularis).

Symptoms include tiredness, anorexia (loss of appetite), intermittent fevers up to 104F, and chills, sweats, body aches (muscles and or joints), nausea, and vomiting. Liver and spleen may enlarge.  The illness may last weeks to over 1 year.

Treatment is limited to people who are immune compromised or severely ill.

Colorado Tick Fever

Colorado Tick Fever, which is caused by a virus, causes fever, chills, muscle aches, joint pains, headaches, and eye pain. Infection may last up to 4 months, but usually does not require specific treatment.


Tularemia, a bacterial infection, causes fever, chills, muscle aches, and headache.  There are several presentations, the most common being called the ulceroglandular syndrome:  Painful wound at the site of entry which ulcerates and is slow to heal and lymph nodes which become swollen and tender.  Other forms may include red eyes, mouth sores, enlarged liver and spleen, abdominal pain with vomiting and diarrhea, or lung disease.  Antibiotics are used to treat tularemia.


Ehrlichiosis is a rickettsial disease which is spread by the tick vector Amblyomma americanum and possibly Ixodes scapularis.

Fever, anemia, low white blood cell level, and hepatitis, headache, tiredness, muscle aches, joint pain, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, weight loss, and rash are symptoms of ehrilichiosis.

Antibiotics are used to treat ehrlichiosis.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

RMSF is transmitted in the South Atlantic/Southeastern states primarily by the dog tick Dermacentor variabilis, in the Western United States by the wood tick Dermacentor andersoni and in the South Central region by the Lone Star tick, Amblyomma americanum.

The incubation period varies between 2 and 14 days.

In the early stages of the disease (e.g., first 2 to 3 days), the symptoms of infection are not specific and often mimic a viral syndrome.  Fever, nausea, vomiting, severe headache, anorexia (loss of appetite), and tiredness are common in the early stages of illness.  Other symptoms include muscle aches (especially calf pain), photophobia (sensitivity to light), and abdominal pain.

Later signs include rash, joint pain, and diarrhea.  The typical rash is red spots that blanch to skin color when pressed, starting on the ankles and feet, then the wrists and hands, then spreading to the trunk and head within hours.  After 6 days or more the rash may become non-blanching.

Antibiotics are used to treat Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.

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Illnesses & Symptoms