Warm Weather Brings the Return of Ticks and Tickborne Diseases

Humankind has advanced to ward off many of its natural foes, but two tiny creatures yet evade us, able to cause a variety of illnesses – the mosquito and the tick. Fortunately, many of the preventive actions we take against one also help to eliminate exposure to the other, but since nothing is foolproof, it’s good to be aware of some of the signs and symptoms of insect-borne illnesses.

Signs and Symptoms of Tickborne Diseases

Although there are a wide number of illnesses that can be transmitted through the bite of an infected tick, there are six tickborne diseases most prevalent in the United States: anaplasmosis; babesiosis; ehrlichiosis; Lyme disease; Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever; and tularemia. This year, public health officials are also on the alert for an as-of-yet rare tickborne illness, Powassan virus.

The tickborne diseases usually occur within certain regions of the country where the particular disease-carrying ticks live, but travel to any of the areas exposes people from other regions to the possibility of acquiring a disease from a tick bite. While not all ticks of a known disease-carrying species will be infected, it’s still important to be alert to the signs and symptoms of these infectious illnesses so that medical treatment can be sought if needed.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that in Alaska in 2013, 14 people in that state were diagnosed with Lyme disease and one person was diagnosed with tularemia – all cases of travel-related tick bites.

Related Information: How to Avoid Ticks/How to Remove an Attached Tick

Anaplasmosis

Where found: Most commonly found in the same areas as Lyme disease – in the northeast and upper midwest portions of the U.S.

Incubation: Symptoms will generally begin to appear within one to two weeks after tick bite

Signs and Symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Muscle aches
  • General tiredness
  • Severe headache
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and/or loss of appetite
  • Cough
  • Rash – only in rare cases

Babesiosis

Where found: Like Lyme disease, it is most often found in the northeast and upper midwest of the U.S., although there have been reports of sporadic instances in other regions.

Incubation: If symptoms occur – and they don’t always for this disease – they can appear within one to nine weeks after tick bite.

Signs and Symptoms:

  • In babesiosis, symptoms of the illness can range from non-existent to life-threatening.
  • Fever
  • General tiredness, fatigue
  • Muscle and/or joint pain
  • Headache
  • Loss of appetite and nausea; sometimes vomiting and abdominal pain
  • Dark urine
  • Less common symptoms include sensitivity to light, cough, sore throat, depression, frequently-changing emotions

Erhlichiosis

Where found: Most often found in the southeastern and south-central U.S., from the southern east coast through Texas.

Incubation: Symptoms may begin within one to two weeks after tick bite.

Signs and Symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Muscle and/or joint aches, pains
  • Headache
  • General tiredness
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite
  • Confusion
  • Cough
  • Rash – most frequently seen in children

Lyme Disease

Where found: Most often found in the northeastern and upper midwest regions of the U.S. Sporadic reports have also been in northern California, Oregon and Washington.

Incubation: Early stage symptoms of Lyme disease can be noted within three to 30 days of a tick bite.

Signs and Symptoms

  • The signs and symptoms vary depending on the stage of the disease
  • Early stage, or localized stage, symptoms include: A bull’s-eye pattern rash that is reddened around the edges but clear in the center may form in one or more areas of the body; flu-like symptoms including fever, body aches and fatigue may occur.
  • Later stages, or disseminated stage symptoms include: A bull’s-eye pattern rash on one or more parts of the body; flu-like symptoms as in the early stage; bouts of severe joint pain and swelling, most often affecting the knees; meningitis; numbness or weakness in extremities; diffuse body rash other than bull’s-eye pattern rash.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

Where found: May occur anywhere within the continental U.S., with more than half of the reported cases have occurred in Arkansas, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Tennessee, with an increasing number of cases in Arizona in recent years.

Incubation: Symptoms begin within two to 14 days of tick bite

Signs and Symptoms

  • Early treatment –within five days of symptoms beginning is essential; untreated Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever can be fatal.
  • Many, but not all people, get the identifying rash of this disease – a red, non-itchy rash that usually first appear on wrists and ankles and then spread in both directions.
  • High fever
  • Severe headache
  • Eyes sensitive to light
  • Restlessness and/or insomnia
  • Muscle aches
  • Nausea, vomiting

Tularemia

Where found: Infection with tularemia can come from a number of sources, from the bites of infected ticks or animals, inhalation of infectious organism, eating under-cooked meat or drinking water contaminated with the bacteria. Tularemia cases have been reported in 49 states; only Hawaii has not reported any.

Incubation: Usually symptoms appear within three to five days from the bite of an infected tick, but can range from one to 21 days.

Signs and Symptoms

  • The signs and symptoms of tularemia will in large part be determined by how the infection was acquired. The signs and symptoms listed here are those associated with tick bites.
  • A skin ulcer forms at the site of the bite
  • Fever
  • Exhaustion
  • Swollen and painful lymph glands

Be aware that not everyone exhibits all of the signs and symptoms of any of these diseases, and the telltale rashes of Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever may or may not be present. If you’ve been bitten by a tick and begin to experience changes in your health such as flu-like symptoms or even generalized tiredness without cause, contact your health care provider.

Early diagnosis can be crucial in preventing serious complications or even death.

If possible, take the tick that bit you to your medical appointment for testing.


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