During the summer months, there is a decent chance that you will encounter ticks. Especially if you venture into areas with tall grass and shrubs. Whether you are outdoors to relax or to go for a hike, you can potentially pick up a tick. A tick may also attach itself to your pet and later migrate to you.
While a tick bite is often harmless, it may cause an allergic reaction or lead to disease transmission. Different types of ticks transmit different diseases. It’s important that you know both how to protect yourself from ticks and how to recognize the symptoms of tick-borne diseases. So in this article, we will look at the most common tick-borne diseases in humans, their symptoms, and treatment, as well as ways to keep the ticks away.
Early symptoms of a tick bite
You will most likely not feel a tick biting you. However, since ticks remain attached to the body after the initial bite, you will likely develop a reaction that will alert you to its presence. There might just be some itching, very mild pain, swelling, and/ or redness at the site.
In some cases, people experience more severe tick bite symptoms, including:
- Neck stiffness
- Weakness or fatigue
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Burning sensation at the site of the bite
- Joint and muscle pain
If you are bitten by a tick and notice any of the above symptoms, it is important to seek medical attention at the earliest opportunity. These symptoms might indicate an allergic reaction or onset of disease.
How to treat tick bites
Once you find a tick on your skin, the first thing to do is to remove it using tweezers. If you don’t have tweezers, use a tissue or piece of cloth.
Do not touch ticks with your bare fingers!
Begin by grasping the tick as close to your skin’s surface as possible without squeezing it. Pull it straight up and away from your skin while applying steady pressure. Make sure you don’t twist or bend the tick.
Once the tick is out, inspect the bite site to see if any parts of the tick, such as the head or mouth, have been left on or in your skin and remove them, if possible.
Submerge the tick in rubbing alcohol or soapy water to kill it. Once it’s dead, you can dispose of it.
However, some experts recommend keeping it in a sealed container for testing in case there is a disease transmission concern. Clean the bite with soap and water.
How to prevent infections from a tick bite
The most effective way to avoid a tick-borne illness is to prevent tick bites in the first place.
This can be done by wearing longs pants tucked into your socks and a long sleeve shirt when playing or hiking in areas where ticks live.
When hiking or walking in these areas, ensure that you walk in the center of trails and wear insect repellent containing DEET. Apply repellent mostly to clothes, but also sparingly on exposed skin.
After the hike, use 0.5 percent permethrin to treat your clothing and gear to kill the ticks that have attached themselves to your gear. Wash repellent off your skin within two hours of returning home.
Check yourself (as well as kids and pets) for ticks. Ask somebody to help you check your back.
Some areas of your skin to check closely include under the arms, behind the knees, between legs, behind the ears, and in your hair.
To transmit disease, ticks typically have to be attached for over 24 hours. The sooner you identify and remove a tick, the better.
Common diseases caused by ticks
Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne illness in Europe and the Americas, but there are many more tick-borne diseases that scientists have identified and that you should be aware of:
- Bartonella henselae (cat scratch disease)
- Rocky mountain spotted fever
- Borrelia miyamotoi
- Powassan encephalitis
- Rickettsia parkeri rickettsiosis
- Tickborne relapsing fever
Some tick diseases such as babesiosis and anaplasmosis are more prevalent in the northeastern and midwestern United States than other parts of the world. Rocky Mountain spotted fever is common in the western U.S. as well as Central and South America.
Powassan encephalitis, though rare, is one of the most serious tick-borne diseases.
This viral brain infection can cause dementia, muscle weakness, seizures, and even death in the most severe cases. There is no vaccine for Lyme disease but if caught early enough, antibiotics are an effective treatment.
Some of the major symptoms of Lyme disease are fever, chills, achy joints and muscles, as well a conspicuous bulls-eye rash around the bite.
Ehrlichiosis is found in nearly every state of the U.S., with the exception of Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Colorado, and New Mexico, though it is rare in the west in general. It is spread by the lone star tick. The deer tick (also called the blacklegged tick) is known for spreading babesiosis, anaplasmosis, Powassan encephalitis, and Lyme disease. The American dog tick spreads Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.
Symptoms of tick-borne diseases in humans
Anyone who has been bitten by a tick is at risk of disease, although not all ticks are carriers. Once you become infected, symptoms may manifest in a matter of days. There are cases in which symptoms manifest only after a few months and other cases are asymptomatic. The severity of symptoms may also vary depending on the specific disease and the person who has been bitten.
Some of the most common symptoms of tick-borne diseases include:
- Joint and muscle pain
- Stiff neck
It is advisable to contact your doctor if you start experiencing any of these symptoms after a tick has bitten you. An early diagnosis will increase the chance of successful treatment.
Diagnosis and treatment of tick-borne illnesses in humans
Your doctor will be able to offer the most appropriate course of treatment once they assess your symptoms.
Tick-borne diseases are a serious global healthcare concern. By knowing the most common tick diseases, how to avoid tick bites, and what to do when a tick has bitten you, you can better protect yourself and your family.