Best Ways To Avoid Tick-Borne Diseases

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In the United States, a variety of ticks carry pathogens that can cause human illness and disease, beyond just Lyme disease. Below is a list of the tick-borne diseases specific to the Northeast, as that is where our offices are located and where most of our readers live.

Diseases and illnesses carried by ticks

  1. Lyme disease (the best-known tick-borne disease) is transmitted by the blacklegged tick in the Northeast and upper Midwest.
  2. Ehrlichiosis is the general name used to describe several bacterial diseases that affect animals and humans, transmitted by the Lone Star tick. Ehrlichiosis is most frequently contracted in the southeastern and south-central United States, from the eastern seaboard extending westward to Texas.
  3. Borrelia miyamotoi infection is transmitted by the blacklegged tick in areas of the country similar to that of Lyme disease (Northeast and upper Midwest).
  4. Anaplasmosis is transmitted to humans by tick bites primarily from the blacklegged tick in the Northeast and upper Midwest.
    Mason Gomberg-001R WEB72

    Mason Gomberg, MD

  5. Babesiosis is caused by microscopic parasites that infect red blood cells. Most human cases of babesiosis in the U.S. are transmitted by the blacklegged tick and is found primarily in the Northeast and upper Midwest.
  6. Powassan disease is transmitted by the blacklegged tick and the groundhog tick. Cases have been reported primarily in the Northeast and Great Lakes regions.
  7. STARI (Southern tick-associated rash illness) is transmitted by the Lone Star tick, found in the southeastern and eastern U.S.
  8. Tularemia is transmitted to humans by the American dog tick, the Rocky Mountain wood tick and the Lone Star tick, and it occurs throughout the U.S.

The most common symptoms of tick-related illnesses

Symptoms of tick-borne diseases can range from mild symptoms that are treatable at home to severe infections requiring hospitalization. Although easily treated with antibiotics, they can be difficult for physicians to diagnose. However, early recognition and treatment of the infection decreases the risk of serious complications.

Many tick-borne diseases can have similar signs and symptoms. If you or your child has been bitten by a tick and develops the symptoms below within a few weeks, you should see your healthcare provider immediately.

Common symptoms include:

  1. Fever/chills: With all tick-borne diseases, patients can experience fever of varying degrees and time of onset.
  2. Aches and pains: These 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.
  3. Rash: Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI) and tularemia can result in distinctive rashes:

a) In Lyme disease, the rash may appear within 3-30 days, typically before the onset of fever. The rash is the first sign of infection and is usually circular with a “bullseye” (site of the tick bite) in the middle. This rash may be warm but is not usually painful.

b) Ehrlichiosis can cause a rash in about 30% of patients and up to 60% of children. The appearance of the rash ranges from small red or purple to flat discolorations to small lumps, and may appear after the onset of fever.

c) The STARI rash is nearly identical to that of Lyme disease, with a red, expanding “bullseye” area that develops around the site of the tick bite. Unlike Lyme disease, however, STARI has not been linked to any arthritic or neurologic symptoms.

d) In the most common form of tularemia, a skin ulcer appears at the site where the infection entered the body. The ulcer is accompanied by swelling of regional lymph glands, usually in the armpit or groin.

How to remove a tick

Remove an attached tick as soon as you notice it. If a tick is attached to your skin for less than 24 hours, your chance of contracting a disease is extremely small.

  1. Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.
  2. Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Do not twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers. If you are unable to remove these easily, leave them alone and let the skin heal.
  3. After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water.
  4. Dispose of a live tick by submersing it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet.
  5. Never crush a tick with your fingers.
  6. Avoid folklore remedies such as “painting” the tick with nail polish or petroleum jelly, or using a lit match to make the tick detach from the skin. Your goal is to remove the tick as quickly as possible to thwart any disease transmission.

How to avoid tick bites

While you should try to prevent tick bites year-round, you need to be extra vigilant in warmer months (April-September) when ticks are most active. Ticks are out and about whenever the temperature is above 40 degrees Fahrenheit. To avoid being bitten, follow these simple guidelines:

  1. Avoid wooded and brushy areas with high grass and leaf litter.
  2. Find and remove ticks on your body.
  3. Remove attached ticks quickly and correctly.
  4. Be on the lookout for fever or rash.
  5. Prevent ticks on animals with flea/tick collars or other treatments.
  6. Discourage deer by removing plants that attract them and/or by building barriers or fencing to keep them out. Deer are the main food source of adult ticks.

If you think your child has been bitten by a tick, please come see us

If you suspect your child may have contracted a disease from a tick bite, please make an appointment with Westchester Health Pediatrics to see one of our pediatricians for an accurate diagnosis and immediate treatment. The sooner we can begin treatment, the faster we can thwart the development of the disease and prevent long-lasting consequences.

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By Mason Gomberg, MD, a pediatrician with Westchester Health Pediatrics.

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About the Author: ML Ball