With the advent of spring and summer months, comes the enthusiasm to go outdoors on hikes and treks. However, walking in the woods also invites unwanted things like ticks and tick bite infections. In this guide, we will consider different types of tick bite infections as well as the ways of identifying them through their symptoms.
Common tick bite infections
The most common varieties of tick bite infections are:
- Rocky Mountain spotted fever
- Lyme disease
- Tularemia (rabbit fever)
Let us discuss each of these tick bite infections, their symptoms, the tick that causes them and the treatment for the infections.
Rocky Mountain spotted fever
The tick responsible for this tick bite infection is the Dog Tick or Dermacentor Variabilis. This tick is a carrier of bacteria called Ricketsiia. The dog tick has to be attached to the host for a period of at least 4 to 6 hours before this infection can be transmitted to the host. Symptoms of Rocky Mountain spotted fever come on suddenly and the early ones might manifest anywhere between 2 to 14 days after the tick bite has occurred. These include:
- Muscle aches
- Severe headaches and vomiting
- A red spotted rash may also be seen on the wrist, ankles, palms and soles.
Treatment for this tick bite infection includes antibiotics form the tetracycline family.
Lyme disease was first reported in Lyme, Connecticut where many children suddenly developed joint pain with fever and chills. Lyme disease is caused by bacterium called spirochetes transmitted mainly by the black legged tick or Deer tick (Ixodex Scapularis). This tick bite infection is more common in north eastern states of USA. Rodents are also responsible for transmitting this tick bite infection, symptoms of which include:
- Circular oblong rash which spreads to form a “bull’s eye” appearance
- Muscle and joint aches
The symptoms usually arise within 3 days to a week of being bitten by the tick. The deer tick is very small in size and people often do not realize being bitten. Lyme disease also does not have accurate blood tests to confirm the infection. People who suffer from this tick bite infection also tend to display many other symptoms. Hence re-testing or secondary opinion for Lyme disease from specialists is often recommended after a period. Dogs and humans infected with Lyme disease continue to display various symptoms for a very long time. Treatment for this tick bite infection includes oral antibiotics from penicillin or tetracycline family. The treatment is usually very prolonged and only successful when the disease is in its early stages.
Ehrlichiosis and Anaplasmosis
Ehrlichiosis is of two types: HME and HGE (human monocytic ehrlichiosis and human granulocytic Ehrlichiosis). These tick bite infections are caused respectively by Lone Star tick and black legged deer tick. Both these tick bite infections can cause various symptoms ranging from mild to severe. They include:
- Muscle pain
- General discomfort
Doctors often prescribe blood tests for platelet count and liver enzyme tests apart from studying the history to tick exposure. Treatment for both these tick bite infections includes tetracycline antibiotics.
Other tick bite infections
Two other very serious tick bite infections include Babesiosis and Tularemia. The latter is accompanied by sudden fever and chills. An ulcer might also appear on the bite site surrounding the lymph nodes.
The former tick bite infection, Babesiosis, is known to affect the patient’s red blood cells. Babesiosis infection is accompanied by symptoms like fever, chills, muscular fatigue and pain, Jaundice. In immunocompromised individuals, elderly patients or patients who have had their spleen removed are also likely to experience more severe symptoms or death following Babesiosis. Treatment for both these tick bite infections includes antibiotics taken early on during the disease.
Following the right procedure to remove ticks is the only way of preventing serious tick bite infections. Always use the following precautionary measures for tick removal:
- Grasp the tick firmly with tweezers as close to its mouth as possible.
- Firmly pull out the tick without squeezing or jerking. This might cause the tick to leave behind mouth parts in the skin leading to various tick bite infections.
- Never use your bare hands to pull out the tick. If tweezers are not available, use gloves, paper napkin or towels to pull the tick out.
- Wash your hands after removing the tick.
- Dispose the tick off in the toilet by flushing or drown it in vinegar or alcohol solution.
- Do not use matches, nail polish remover, petroleum jelly etc for removing the ticks as these methods are not safe.
Avoid tick infested areas as far as possible and protect yourself with proper clothing, shoes and DEET based insect repellents. By following these precautions you can ensure keeping yourself and your family members safe from tick bite infections.