Tick Borne Diseases
It is incredible how much damage can be caused by such a small creature. Ticks are capable of carrying multiple pathogens, including bacteria, viruses, spirochetes, nematodes, rickettsia and more, many of which can lead to serious illness and even death. Worse yet, a single tick may carry multiple pathogens, infecting it’s host with several diseases at once.
Lyme disease may be the most commonly known tick-borne illness, but there are several others present in North America that we should all be aware of. While experts debate the time it takes for a tick to be attached to transmit Lyme disease (most suggest a period of at least 24 hours), other potentially deadly pathogens, like the Powassan virus, can be transmitted in as little as 15 minutes.
Three-dimensional drawing of Borrelia bacteria in blood - Illustration
The following diseases are spread by ticks in Canada and the United States:
A bacterial disease spread by blacklegged and western blacklegged ticks. Early stage infection can cause confusion, severe headaches, muscle aches, fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, lack of appetite, coughing, rash, and extreme fatigue. Late stage infection can cause confusion, seizures, coma, respiratory failure, heart and kidney failure, bleeding, septic shock and death.
A parasitic infection spread by blacklegged ticks. Infection causes destruction of red blood cells, leading to anemia and jaundice. Symptoms include headaches, muscle aches, fever, chills, nausea, lack of appetite, extreme fatigue, and other nonspecific flu-like symptoms. Babeiosis can become life threatening to the elderly, people with weakened immune systems and other serious health conditions, as well as to those without a spleen. Serious complications can lead to dangerously low blood pressure, anemia, blood clots, bleeding, organ failure and death.
Though there is debate about whether or not bartonella is transmitted by ticks, it is often reported as a Lyme co-infection and is recognized as a tick-borne disease in dogs. Symptoms may include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, weight loss, sore throat, chills, headache, abdominal pain, rash, swollen lymph nodes, muscle pain, bone pain, skin lesions and nodular growths. More severe outcomes include eye infections, endocarditis, atypical pneumonia, encephalitis, and lesions and inflammation of the liver, spleen and other organs.
Discovered in 2013, this new borrelia bacterial strain causes Lyme disease, and is spread by blacklegged ticks. As with Lyme disease, it causes flu-like symptoms, muscle and body pain, fatigue, arthritis, and neurological problems. Unlike Lyme disease, it also can cause nausea, vomiting, rashes over the whole body, and a higher concentration of bacteria in the blood.
Found in the blacklegged and western blacklegged tick, this corkscrew-shaped bacteria is related to both the bacteria responsible for tick-borne relapsing fever, as well as Lyme disease. This bacteria was first discovered in 1995, and is known to cause fever, chills, headache, body and joint pain. Severe complications include inflammation of the brain and surrounding membranes.
Bourbon Virus Disease
Spread by the lone star tick, little is known about this newly emerging tick-borne disease, and there is no current diagnostic test or effective treatment for it. Symptoms include fever, tiredness, rash, headache, body aches, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, and low blood counts for cells that fight infection and help prevent bleeding. Severe infections can lead to death.
Colorado Tick Fever
Spread by the Rocky Mountain wood tick, symptoms of this infection include fever, chills, severe headache, light sensitivity, muscle aches, skin tenderness, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, weakness, fatigue, and a faint rash. Severe infections can lead to encephalitis, meningitis, and hemorrhagic fever.
Passed along by the lone star, dog and blacklegged tick, these bacterial infections can cause fever, severe headache and muscle pain, nausea, and vomiting. Complications can include a prolonged fever, toxic or septic shock-like syndrome, bleeding, adult respiratory distress syndrome, inflammation of the brain and surrounding membrane, seizures, coma and death.
Heartland Virus Disease
Transmitted by the lone star tick, little is known about this newly emerging tick-borne disease, and there is no current diagnostic test or effective treatment for it. Symptoms include fever, extreme fatigue, headache, body aches, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, poor short term memory, and low blood counts for cells that fight infection and help prevent bleeding. Severe infections can lead to death.
This commonly know tick-borne disease is caused by the corkscrew-shaped borrelia bacteria, and is spread by blacklegged and western blacklegged ticks. Symptoms of early stage infection may include a rash, sometimes shaped like a bullseye, fever, chills, headache, muscle and joint aches, swollen lymph nodes, and fatigue. Left untreated it can lead to facial paralysis, potentially fatal heart palpitations and arrhythmia, neurological disorders including those that mimic dementia, dizziness, mental confusion or inability to think clearly, memory loss, inflammation of the brain and spinal cord, nerve pain, numbness or tingling in the hands or feet, and arthritis.
Passed along by both blacklegged and groundhog ticks, this newly emerging tick-borne disease is related to the West Nile virus, and has no current diagnostic test or effective treatment for it. Symptoms include fever, headache, vomiting, weakness, confusion, loss of coordination, speech difficulties, and seizures. Severe infections can cause inflammation of the brain (encephalitis), inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord (meningitis), permanent neurological issues including muscle wasting, migraines and memory problems, as well as death. This pathogen is particularly dangerous as it can be transmitted by a tick in as little as 15 minutes.
This illness is most commonly contracted when people breathe in or ingest coxiella burnetti bacteria, however it is also spread by lone star and Rocky Mountain wood ticks. Though this illness is primarily of concern to livestock, human cases may present with heart failure or nonspecific symptoms, including low-grade fever, fatigue, chills, body pain, swollen and/or painful joints, rash from septic infections, pneumonia, chest pain, shortness of breath, jaundice, gastrointestinal problems and night sweats. Complications can lead to acute respiratory distress syndrome, endocarditis, miscarriage, chronic fatigue syndrome, inflammation of the brain and membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord, and death.
Red Meat Allergy
Spread by the lone star tick, this allergy is caused when ticks inject their hosts with alpha-gal, a sugar produced in the tick’s gut. The same sugar is found in red meat and some dairy products. As the host body’s immune system recognizes and attempts to exterminate the tiny intruder, it simultaneously recognizes food containing alpha-gal as a threat and launches an attack on it as well. Reactions can range from urticaria to anaphylaxis and can occur up to 6 hours after ingesting red meat. This anaphylactic allergy may be life threatening.
Rickettsia Parkeri Rickettsiosis
This bacterial infection is spread by the Gulf Coast tick, and is a strain of spotted fever often recognized by a dark scab left at the site of the tick bite. It can create symptoms that include fever, headache, muscle and joint pain, generalized rash, and fatigue.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
Transmitted by the American dog tick, Rocky Mountain wood tick, and brown dog tick, this bacterial infection causes spotted fever, an infection that may become deadly. Symptoms of this infection include fever, headache, rash, stomach pain, body pain, nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite. Acute infections may lead to various body part amputations, hearing loss, paralysis, mental disability, and death.
STARI - Southern Tick Associated Rash Illness
Transmitted by the lone star tick, this condition may present with a bullseye rash, similar to that of Lyme disease. Though symptoms include fever, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, STARI is not known to cause the same neurological, arthritic or heart-related complications as Lyme disease.
Tick Borne Relapsing Fever
Transmitted through the bite of a soft shelled tick, this condition is marked by relapsing and recurring fevers, accompanied by headaches, nausea, and muscle and joint pain. Consequences of this condition may include cardiac and renal disturbances, peripheral nerve disturbances, inflammation of the eyes, and complications during pregnancy.
Caused by a neurotoxin found in the saliva of at least 40 species of ticks, tick paralysis can cause generalized weakness and malaise, numbness and tingling in the face and limbs, fatigue, irritability, restlessness or muscle pains, double vision, trouble swallowing and speaking, and acute ascending flaccid paralysis. Severe cases can lead to respiratory failure and death. Recovery may be swift if the tick is found and removed as soon as possible.
Transmitted by the dog tick, wood tick and lone star tick, this highly infectious bacteria can cause severe and widespread bodily damage, including death. Symptoms of tularemia include skin ulcers, swollen lymph glands, sore throat, cough, chest pain, difficulty breathing, muscle aches and weakness, joint pain, and gastrointestinal disturbances.
Like several other newly emerging tick-borne diseases, not a lot is known about the recently discovered 364D strain of infection. This illness is spread by the Pacific Coast tick, and like other forms of rickettsia, this bacterial infection causes fever, general malaise, and a dark scab at the site of the tick bite.
That’s a pretty extensive list of serious conditions that we absolutely want to avoid contracting. Prevention is key when it comes to tick-borne diseases, and luckily there are several easy ways to avoid tick bites without barricading yourself indoors for the rest of time. Learn more about the best methods of bite prevention here.