Tick Borne Diseases
Ticks carry a number of diseases, however, they must bite and remain attached for hours to transmit a disease to their host. Removing attached ticks promptly can greatly reduce the risk of transmission of a tick-borne disease. Symptoms of tick-borne diseases include: fever, flu-like illness, numbness, confusion, weakness, joint pain and swelling and rash. If you have recently had a tick bite, and developed any of these symptoms, you should consult a physician. If possible, document the date and time that the tick bite occured in case any symptoms should develop later.
Ticks are parasitic arachnids that attach themselves to the skin of animals and humans from which it sucks blood to feed and grow to the next developmental stage. Ticks have life cycles that involve three distinct life stages of development: larval (infant), nymph (immature) and adult (mature). There are more than 800 varieties of ticks, but the ones of most concern locally are the Brown dog ticks (Rhipicephalus sanguineus), Blacklegged ticks (Ixodes scapularis), American dog ticks (Dermacentor variabilis), and Lone Star ticks (Amblyomma americanum).
PROTECT against tick bites
Avoid areas where ticks live.
- Avoid wooded and brushy areas with high grass and leaf litter.
- Walk in the center of trails.
- Take extra precautions in spring, summer and fall when ticks are most active.
Use tick repellents.
- Use insect repellents registered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) labeled for use against ticks on exposed skin for protection that lasts several hours. Always follow the product label. Parents should apply this product to their children, avoiding their hands, eyes and mouth.
- Treat clothing and gear, such as boots, pants, socks and tents with products containing 0.5 percent permethrin. It remains protective through several washings. Always follow the product label. Pre-treated clothing is available and may provide longer lasting protection.
Cover up to keep ticks off your body.
- Wear long pants, long sleeves and long socks.
- Tuck pant legs into socks or boots and tuck shirts into pants to keep ticks on the outside of your clothing.
- Light-colored clothing will help you spot ticks more easily.
CHECK for ticks
Don't let ticks hitchhike inside on your clothing.
- Remove ticks from your clothes before going indoors.
- Examine gear and pets. Ticks can ride into the home on clothing and pets, then attach to a person later, so carefully examine pets, coats and day packs.
- Tumble dry clothes in a dyer on high heat for 10 minutes to kill ticks on dry clothing after you come indoors. If the clothes are damp, additional time may be needed. If the clothes require washing first, hot water is recommended.
Check your whole body for ticks.
- Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors (preferably within two hours) to more easily find and wash off any ticks that may be crawling on you.
- Conduct a full-body tick check using a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body upon return from tick-infested areas. Parents should check their children for ticks under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist and especially in their hair.
If the tick is attached, try to remove it as soon as possible to reduce the risk of infection.
Cover fingers with a paper towel, or use tweezers, to remove the tick. Grip the tick close to the skin and steadily pull straight up and out.
Try to avoid crushing the tick.
DO NOT use a hot match, alcohol, nail polish, or other products, to remove the tick. Using these products can cause the tick to vomit, raising the risk of transmission.
WATCH for symptoms
Many tickborne diseases can have similar signs and symptoms. The most common symptoms of tick-related illnesses are:
- Fever/chills: With all tickborne diseases, patients can experience fever at varying degrees and time of onset.
- Aches and pains: Tickborne disease symptoms 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, southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI), Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF), ehrlichiosis and tularemia can result in distinctive rashes.
Tickborne 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. So see your healthcare provider immediately if you have been bitten by a tick and experience any of the symptoms described here.
Brown dog ticks have a world-wide distribution and can be found throughout the United States. They live predominately in and around human settlements and infest homes, animal pens and dog kennels, often causing high levels of infestation both on dogs and in homes. These ticks can spend their entire life cycle indoors. Under optimal conditions, Brown dog ticks can complete their life cycle in as little as three months. All life stages of this tick can transmit Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever rickettsia (Rickettsia rickettsia) to dogs and, in some cases, to humans. Both nymph and adult stages can transmit the agents of canine ehrlichiosis (Ehrlichia canis) and canine babesiosis (Babesia canis vogeli and Babesia gibsoni-like) to dogs. Adult Brown dog ticks can be found throughout the year and can survive up to 18 months without feeding. As the name suggests, they prefer to feed on dogs, but will feed on other mammals and humans. Male feedings last for only a short period, while females feed for about a week before become engorged and dropping off their host. Females can lay up to 4,000 eggs from which the larvae will hatch in two to five weeks. Larva and nymphs can survive up to nine months without a blood meal. Larva and nymphs typically feed on their host for five to ten days before dropping off to hide and molt into the next stage.
Controlling brown dog tick infestations can be difficult and usually requires a four- step process: treating the pets, treating the house, treating the yard, and sanitizing the house by focusing on vacuuming. This process may take several treatments and take several months to eradicate the infestation.
The Blacklegged ticks (Deer ticks) take two years to complete their life cycle and are typically found in deciduous forest. Both nymph and adult stages are capable of transmitting disease such as Lyme disease. While the Blacklegged tick has been more common along the east coast, there have been a growing number reported throughout Ohio. Adult Blacklegged ticks are active from October to May, as long as daytime temperatures remain above freezing (32°F). They prefer large hosts, such as deer, and are commonly found on knee-level branches, grass, and low-lying vegetation. Adult males do not feed; however, adult females will commonly feed on humans and other animals. Females, once they have had a blood meal, will drop off their host and hibernate in leaf litter. Females lay a single egg mass that contains up to 2,000 eggs in mid- to late May, after which the female dies. The larva will hatch from the eggs in July and are active through September. Once the larva have fed for up to three days, they will drop off, molt and hibernate, re-emerging the following year as a nymph. Nymphs feed on smaller mammals on the forest floor before molting and re-emerging as adults in the fall.
American dog ticks are found predominantly in grassy fields, scrublands, and along walkways and trails. They feed on a variety of hosts, ranging from mice to deer, humans and domestic animals. The American dog tick can survive at any stage without food for up to two years. Adults are active from April through early August. The male ticks feed only briefly before mating, while the females feed for several days to become engorged. Once the female has fed, she falls from her host and lays up to 4,000 eggs before dying. The larva are active from April to September. After feeding, they will drop into grass to molt into a nymph. Nymphs are primarily active from May through July. After feeding, they will drop off to molt into an adult. They have been known to transmit Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Tularemia.
Lone star ticks are found in forests and dense undergrowth. They are known to carry Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and STARI, and are commonly found on humans. Adults are active from April through late August and typically feed on large animals like dogs, coyotes, deer, livestock and humans. Females are easily identified by the white dot in the center of the body. Adult females require about 10 days to feed before dropping off to lay eggs. The larva are active from July to late September and feed on a variety of animals from small birds to deer and humans. After feeding, they will drop off to molt into the nymph stage. The nymphs will feed for up to six days prior to molting into an adult.