Tick-borne illness is spreading fast. Insect-borne illnesses in general have nearly tripled in the last 15 years, with the vast majority of these illnesses coming from tick bites. And it’s becoming a huge problem.
Thanks in part to the rise of warmer winters, the tick population is spreading rapidly, even beyond the confines of the north/northeastern US.
While the majority of tick-borne illnesses are Lyme-related (still a mysterious disease in and of itself) the prevalence of other tick-borne illnesses is growing. Here are a few you should be aware of.
This is actually a cattle disease that is transmitted to humans through ticks, usually nymphs. It is a parasite that infects red blood cells.
While many people with Babesiosis do not exhibit symptoms, some people may experience general flu-like symptoms and develop a very specific type of anemia. Luckily, this illness is completely treatable, provided that you don’t already have a weakened immune system.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
This bacterial disease can present itself as a headache or upset stomach and fever, accompanied by a spotted rash two to four days after the fever begins.
Early treatment is crucial for this disease, which includes doxycycline, the same drug used for early Lyme disease treatment. Although it was first discovered in the Rocky Mountains, this disease is most common in the southeastern US.
While only 75 cases of Powassan have been reported in the last decade, it is a deadly tick-borne illness. This infection attacks the brain, causing inflammation and infections in the brain tissue. It can be deadly, but those who survive generally suffer long-term neurological problems as a result.
The majority of cases have been found in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, and New York. It presents as flu-like symptoms and can progress to difficulty speaking anywhere from a week to a month after a tick bite. While again, it is very rare, it is another reason to exert caution around ticks.
Bites from certain ticks, like the lone star tick, can actually induce a delayed immune response to alpha-gal, a sugar found in beef, lamb, venison, and pork.
That’s right—one tiny tick bite can make you seriously allergic to red meat. And symptoms generally don’t reveal themselves until three to eight hours after red meat is consumed, making the allergy a little tough to track down. While there is no cure, the allergy may go away over time, if there are no more tick bites.
Caused by the bacterium Francisella tularensis, this disease is also called rabbit fever. It can be transmitted by improperly handling dead animals or from, yep, tick bites.
Symptoms start with a very high fever and, depending on the form of the infection, can lead to inflammation of any number of areas of the body. According to the CDC, milder iterations can result in a skin ulcer.
A full list of tick-borne illnesses in the US can be found on the CDC website.
HOW TO AVOID TICKS THIS SUMMER
- Use insect repellent every time you go outside. If you are looking for a good natural option, rose geranium essential oil has been shown to be highly effective at thwarting ticks, with 90 percent effectiveness.
- Avoid walking in areas of high grass and brush. If you do walk through these areas, tuck in pants and shirt and do spot checks regularly.
- Tumble dry clothes on high for 10 minutes to kill any ticks after coming in from a hike or gardening.
- Bathe after spending time outdoors to help you scan yourself and catch ticks early on, or before they bite.
- If you find a tick on yourself, remove it immediately. While it takes 24 hours for a tick to transmit Lyme, other diseases can be transmitted more quickly. The sooner a bite is treated, the better off you will be. Seek treatment, if you’re concerned.
- Make sure you’re removing that tick the right way. Use clean tweezers to grab a burrowed tick at the mouth and slowly and firmly pull it directly upward. Twisting may cause pieces of the tick to be left behind in your skin. Destroy the tick by flushing it down the toilet or taping it to an index card labeled with the date of the tick bite (which seems gross but can be extremely helpful in diagnosing tick-borne illness a few months down the line).
- Clean outdoor pets daily to reduce your exposure in your own home. If you do find a tick on your pet, make sure you remove it properly.