While the greatest concentration of tickborne disease is in the Northeast, if you live just about anywhere in the United States, you have likely come across someone in your life that has been affected by one of these unpleasant diseases. Tickborne diseases sometimes come as a surprise, presenting with signs and symptoms that may seem vague and confusing if you’re not familiar with them.
With more than 50,000 people a year being diagnosed with tickborne diseases that greatly impact their quality of life, as the CDC’s most recent surveillance data shows, the risks present an ongoing concern for healthcare workers.
Protecting yourself and others against tickborne diseases begins with an in-depth knowledge related to prevention and early recognition. Being able to quickly identify the symptoms of tickborne diseases will allow for effective medical management when you suspect that someone has been bitten by a tick. Let’s take a closer look at which tickborne diseases are out there, the signs and symptoms, and how to prevent them.
Which Diseases Can Be Transmitted by Ticks?
When most people imagine being bitten by a tick, they think of Lyme disease. This makes sense—it’s the most commonly reported tickborne illness in the United States. Ticks don’t stop there in terms of trying to ruin your day. There are just under a dozen different types of ticks and a variety of illnesses associated with their bites.
Most often seen in the upper Midwest, Northeast, and Mid-Atlantic states spread by the black-legged tick and often associated with the classic “bullseye rash”.
Most often seen in the upper Midwest and Northeast in areas that geographically mimic those with a high incidence of Lyme disease.
Most frequently reported in the Southeastern and South Central regions of the United States, often following the environmental distribution of the lone star tick.
A parasitic infection most often in the upper Midwest and Northeastern region of the United States with symptoms ranging from mild to life-threatening.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
A serious and potentially fatal tickborne illness when not treated promptly, spread by the American Dog Tick, the brown dog tick, and the Rocky Mountain Wood Tick.
Powassan Virus Disease
Most often seen in the Northeast with symptoms that can progress to significantly affecting your neurological system if not treated.
As you can see, there are multiple tickborne diseases that are important to be aware of, especially since it’s entirely possible to be suffering from more than one disease at a time. Early recognition and treatment, which starts with knowing the symptoms of tickborne diseases, are essential to managing these illnesses.
What Are the Symptoms of Tickborne Diseases?
Although there are multiple diseases transmitted by ticks, there are a handful of signs and symptoms that are common across many of them. These symptoms include:
- Muscle aches
- Joint pain
- Swollen glands
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal discomfort
- Gastrointestinal upset
As a healthcare professional, you may be looking at these signs and symptoms and thinking that many of them are common to other conditions, as well. You’re not wrong. That’s exactly why it’s essential to think about the risk of getting one of these illnesses in the first place.
Ask yourself the following questions: Does the person experiencing these symptoms work outside, like in landscaping or construction? Does he or she have a pet like a dog or a cat that could possibly increase the risk of exposure to ticks? Questions like this contribute important information related to the history of the present illness that should be evaluated alongside potential symptoms of tickborne diseases.
In addition to these more generalized signs and symptoms, there are also some disease-specific symptoms like rashes that are prevalent in tickborne infections. For example, the notorious Lyme disease is often associated with a circular rash that looks like a target that expands over time, or a rash that moves around the body. You may have also heard this rash referred to as erythema migrans, as it “migrates” around the body.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is associated with a rash that, as you may have guessed, appears spotted. The spots can range from pinpoints to larger spots beginning 2-4 days after a fever. Ehrlichiosis can have a very similar-looking rash that often begins about 5 days after the fever begins.
Identifying and Preventing Tickborne Diseases
As a healthcare professional, you need to be able to identify the signs and symptoms associated with the different types of tickborne diseases as well as the potential risk factors. This includes being familiar with information like what ticks are active in your region, which diseases they carry, and effective means of prevention.
A comprehensive introduction to tick-related diseases is offered by the easy-to-use online learning platform, Premiere Education. The Tickborne Diseases Essential Content for the Healthcare Provider course covers the variety of ticks in different regions, the symptoms of tickborne diseases, disease transmission, diagnosis, and treatment.
Thankfully, preventing tick bites is perfectly possible:
- After you come inside, check your clothing.
- Check your pets and kids if they’ve been outside.
- Take a shower after being outside in areas where there might be ticks.
- Check your own body, especially in places like your waistline, under your arms, and between your legs.
In addition to being armed with this information yourself, the prevention of tickborne illnesses is largely supported by meaningful patient education. Talk to your patients about the risks, especially during the warmer months, when more people are out in nature, and if you’re located in an area with high tick activity.