Ticks Bites Can Cause Human Disease

Ticks are out so outdoor lovers need to keep a watchful eye. In the United States, some ticks carry pathogens that can cause human disease. The following are typically found in the upper Midwest:

  • Anaplasmosis, which is transmitted to humans by tick bites primarily from the blacklegged tick) in the Northeastern and upper Midwestern United States and the western blacklegged tick along the Pacific Coast.
  • Babeiosis is caused by microscopic parasites that infect red blood cells. Most human cases of babesiosis in the U.S. are caused by Babesia microti, which is transmitted by the blacklegged tick and is found primarily in the Northeast and upper Midwest.
  • Borrelia miyamotoi infection has recently been described as a cause of illness in the U.S. It is transmitted by the blacklegged tick and is similar to that of Lyme disease.
  • Lyme disease is transmitted by the blacklegged tick in the Northeastern U.S. and upper Midwest and the western blacklegged tick along the Pacific Coast.
  • Powassan disease is transmitted by the blacklegged tick and the groundhog tick. Cases have been reported primarily from Northeastern states and the Great Lakes region.
  • Tularemia is transmitted to humans by the dog tick the wood tick, and the lone star tick. Tularemia occurs throughout the U.S.

Tick borne diseases can have similar signs and symptoms. See a doctor if symptoms develop within a few weeks after a tick bite. A doctor can evaluate the following to determine a course of treatment:

  • The symptoms
  • The geographic region in which the bite happened
  • Diagnostic tests, if indicated by the symptoms and the region where bitten
  • The most common symptoms of tick-related illnesses are:
  • Fever or chills: Patients can experience fever at varying degrees and time of onset.
  • Aches and pains: Tickborne disease symptoms include headache, fatigue, and muscle aches. There may be joint pain with Lyme disease. The severity and time of onset of these symptoms depends on the disease and the patient's personal tolerance level.
  • Rash: Tick borne illnesses like Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia can result in distinctive rashes.

Tick borne diseases can result in mild symptoms treatable at home to severe infections requiring hospitalization. Although easily treated with antibiotics, these diseases can be difficult for physicians to diagnose. However, early recognition and treatment of the infection decreases the risk of serious complications.

Tick paralysis is a rare disease thought to be caused by a toxin in tick saliva. The symptoms include acute, ascending, flaccid paralysis that is often confused with other neurologic disorders or diseases like Guillain-Barré syndrome or botulism. The paralysis typically subsides within 24 hours of removing the tick.

Be vigilant when out and about. Avoid wooded and bushy areas with high grass. Repel ticks with repellents that contain 20 percent DEET. Spray on exposed skin and clothing and gear. Do a full body tick check. If a tick is found, use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin's surface as possible. Pull upward with a steady pressure. Don’t twist or jerk, which could cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin. Dispose of the tick properly but don’t crush it with fingers. 

Michael Bauer, MDBy Michael Bauer, M.D.ThedaCare Physicians - Waupaca