According to pest experts, this year’s tick season is anticipated to be one of the worst in decades. This is partially due to a mild winter across the United States, but also because of a decrease in the population of a certain species of mouse. Increased tick populations mean increased instances of tick-borne diseases. Here are some symptoms to be on the lookout for.
Symptoms of Lyme Disease
According to the CDC, Lyme disease is the most commonly reported vector-borne illness in the United States. It is caused by a bacterial infection transmitted through the bites of blacklegged ticks. The symptoms can be divided into two phases:
Early Symptoms (3-30 days after the bite):
- Muscle and joint aches
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Erythema migrans (EM) rash- This rash occurs in roughly 70 to 80 percent of patients and presents at the site of the tick bite between three and thirty days after the original bite. It expands gradually and can cover an area up to one foot in diameter. It may feel warm to the touch, but is rarely itchy or painful. In some cases, it may take on a “bulls-eye” appearance.
Late Symptoms (days to months after the bite):
- Severe headache
- Neck stiffness
- Additional EM rashes on additional body parts
- Arthritis with severe joint pain and swelling, most commonly in the knees
- Pain in tendons, muscles and joints
- Facial palsy—a loss of muscle tone or droopiness in one side of the face
- Dizziness and shortness of breath
- Inflammation of the brain and/or spinal cord
- Nerve pain
- Shooting pains, numbness or tingling in the hands or feet
- Short-term memory loss or confusion
In most cases, Lyme disease can be treated successfully with antibiotics. If left untreated, Lyme disease can cause serious damage to the heart, lungs, nervous system and joints.
Lone Star tick bites can cause an increasingly common allergy to red meat called Alpha-gal syndrome. Once a bite has occurred, symptoms may not show up for several weeks.
- Hives and itching
- Itchy or scaly skin (eczema)
- Wheezing or shortness of breath
- Runny nose
- Abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting or nausea
- Anaphylaxis, or a severe, potentially fatal allergic reaction
There is no treatment for Alpha-gal other than avoiding red meat, but those affected should be tested to rule out other food allergies.
Other Tick-Borne Diseases
In addition to these two common diseases, there are also other diseases that can be transmitted via tick bite. These include:
- Ehrlichiosis- this illness causes flu-like symptoms, usually within seven to fourteen days after a bite.
- Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever- this bacterial disease presents itself with a fever, headache and rash. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever can be deadly if not treated early with the right antibiotic.
- Anaplasmosis- people with anaplasmosis will often have a fever, headache, chills and muscle aches.
- Babeiosis- babeiosis is often asympomatic. Healthy people will usually only have a mild fever and diarrhea. In those with compromised immune systems, it can present with symptoms similar to malaria, and include a fever of up to 105°F.
The best way to prevent contracting a tick-borne illness is to prevent tick bites. When spending time outside, take the time to take the necessary precautions. Avoid walking in tall grass and dense vegetation, wear long pants and light colored clothing, and tuck your pants legs into your socks and boots when possible. After spending time outside, check yourself and your pets for ticks. Using a tick repellent that contains at least 30% DEET or 0.5% permethrin can help to prevent ticks.
If You are Bitten By a Tick
If you are bitten by a tick, proper removal is important. Remove the tick as soon as possible, following these steps.
- Grab a clean set of tweezers.
- Grasp the tick as close to the surface of the skin as possible.
- Pull upward with a steady, even motion. Do not twist the tick. This can cause the mouth parts to break off in the skin, leading to infection. If you are unable to remove the head, leave it alone. Do not try to dig it out.
- After removing the tick, clean the bite with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.
- Never crush a tick with your fingers. Dispose of the tick by placing it in rubbing alcohol, placing it in a zip-lock bag or flushing it down the toilet.
If you suspect you have tick-borne illness such as Lyme Disease or Alpha Gal, schedule an appointment or drop by to get tested. With these diseases, early detection is key to making a full recovery and creating the right course of treatment.