When you think about ticks, you probably think about Lyme disease. Lyme disease is the most common disease spread by ticks in the United States, but it’s not the only one. In fact, the CDC has identified 16 unique tickborne diseases that have affected people living in the US in the past. Here are some facts you should know about ticks and the diseases they carry:
There are Nearly 900 Species of Ticks in the World
More than 90 of them are found in the US, and only a few of those carry diseases. Only nine types of ticks found in the US bite humans and even fewer carry diseases.
Ticks Don’t Jump, Fly, or Travel Around the Bite Site
Ticks are close relatives of spiders, and they travel in much the same (with the exception of webs, of course). They don’t jump, and they don’t have wings. Usually, a tick attaches to a person’s skin when that person brushes up against the surface the tick is on. Once a tick attaches itself, it latches on and starts to feed. The tick will usually stay in one place, and rarely bites its host (read: victim) more than once.
They Tend to Stick Around
Ticks aren’t the type to dine and dash. Once they’ve secured a reliable source of food (blood), they hook in and can feed for up to 10 days.
Most of Them Like Animals More Than Humans, And Animals Are Affected By Tickborne Diseases More Often
Ticks attach to animals much more often than they attach to humans. It’s not all good news, though. A tick can feed on up to three different hosts in its lifetime, and can move to humans from animals. One 2017 study reports that pet owners are more than twice as likely as non-pet owners to find a tick on themselves.
Tick Removal and Treating Tickborne Diseases
You can remove a tick at home, and you should remove it as soon as possible. Here are some tips for successful tick removal:
- Use tweezers with fine tips and position the tips as close to the skin as possible.
- Pull away from the skin using steady, consistent movements. Don’t pluck the tick as you’ll risk splitting it in half and leaving the feeding parts behind. If you do split the tick, you can try to remove the second part. If it’s too difficult, though, there’s no harm in leaving it and letting the skin heal, as long as you’ve removed the tick’s body.
- Once you’ve removed the tick, clean the area with alcohol or soap and water.
- Don’t squish the tick. Dispose of it by putting it in a sealed bag or flushing it down the toilet. If you decide to flush it down the toilet, keep a close eye to make sure it’s gone.
If you’re unable to remove the tick or if you experience symptoms that may be related to a tick bite, seek medical attention as soon as possible. Home remedies aren’t always effective, and it’s better to leave tick bite treatment to the professionals. A doctor will decide whether or not it’s necessary to prescribe a round of antibiotics.
Diseases Spread by Ticks in the US
- Lyme disease is transmitted by two types of blacklegged ticks. People who live in the northeastern and upper midwestern US, as well as those who live along the Pacific coast, are at risk. It’s characterized by a rash (that’s usually shaped like a bull’s eye), and flu-like symptoms, including fever, chills, headaches, and body aches.
- Anaplasmosis is transmitted by the same two types of blacklegged ticks that spread Lyme disease. Its symptoms are similar to Lyme disease, but the characteristic rash is absent.
- Babesiosis is caused by a type of blacklegged tick that carries microscopic parasites that affect red blood cells. It’s characterized by the same flu-like symptoms that are present in anaplasmosis, but with loss of appetite and nausea.
- Borrelia mayonii are a type of bacteria carried by blacklegged ticks. Infection with this bacteria causes headaches, nausea, fever, neck pain, and a rash.
- Borrelia miyamotoi are another type of bacteria and are carried by the same type of ticks. Infection with this bacteria causes symptoms that are similar to Lyme disease, but with the addition of neurological symptoms, like confusion and disorientation.
- Bourbon virus is a recently discovered tickborne disease. We don’t know much about it, but it can be very serious, and it’s difficult to diagnose.
- Colorado tick fever is carried by the Rocky Mountain wood tick. It only occurs in the Rocky Mountain states. It causes fever, headaches, and body aches.
- Ehrlichiosis is transmitted by the Lone Star tick. This bacterial infection causes delayed-onset flu-like symptoms.
- Heartland virus is uncommon. It causes flu-like symptoms and is believed to be carried by the Lone Star tick.
- Powassan disease is a serious disease that’s carried by blacklegged ticks. In addition to typical symptoms of tickborne diseases, it can cause seizures, encephalitis (swelling of the brain), and meningitis (swelling of the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord).
- Rickettsia parkeri rickettsiosis is carried by the Gulf Coast tick. It’s characterized by the typical tickborne disease symptoms, as well as an eschar, which looks like a circular gash that’s starting to scab over.
- Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF) is carried by two types of dog ticks. A spotted rash occurs alongside typical flu-like symptoms.
- Southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI) is transmitted by the Lone Star tick. Its symptoms mimic those associated with Lyme disease, including the rash.
- Tickborne relapsing fever (TBRF) is caused by soft ticks and is usually associated with sleeping in rustic homes and cabins. It causes flu-like symptoms that last for three days, disappear for seven, and then return. This cycle can repeat without antibiotics.
- Tularemia is carried by several types of ticks. It causes symptoms related to the eyes, lymph nodes, lungs, and skin.
- 364D rickettsiosis is a new disease found in California. It’s carried by the Pacific Coast tick and has symptoms similar to rickettsia parkeri rickettsiosis.