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Beware the bite: Tick troubles go beyond Lyme disease

A man crouched on a hiking trail with a smiling child on his back.

Aug. 4, 2022—When it comes to diseases that some ticks spread with their bites, Lyme disease often gets the spotlight. But it’s not the only risk from ticks. The U.S. is home to more than a dozen tick-borne diseases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports. Here are a few of them.

Powassan virus. While rare, Powassan virus cases have been increasing. Blacklegged and groundhog ticks can spread this illness, which can cause severe infections of the brain and spinal cord and sometimes chronic headaches, muscle loss and memory. Early symptoms include fever, headache, vomiting and weakness. Confusion, trouble speaking, loss of coordination and seizures can occur if the illness progresses.

Rocky Mountain spotted fever. The American dog tick, the Rocky Mountain wood tick and the brown dog tick can spread this illness, which can be fatal without prompt antibiotic treatment. Rash is a hallmark sign; it usually follows fever. Other symptoms include headache, nausea, and stomach and muscle pain. Ticks (and mites) can also spread other, less severe spotted fevers—for instance, Pacific Coast tick fever—that often leave a dark scab.

Ehrlichiosis. Humans can get this from the lone star tick. Early symptoms include fever, rash, chills and aches. Timely antibiotic treatment usually prevents severe complications. But having a weakened immune system can make you more likely to get very sick from this tick-borne disease.

Babesiosis. This is caused by parasites transmitted by the blacklegged tick. Some people have flu-like symptoms. Infections also can lead to anemia (a low number of red blood cells). Although treatable, babesiosis sometimes causes severe illness among older adults and those with underlying conditions.

Prevent tick bites

Know which ticks to watch out for in your area. Then take steps to avoid their bites—especially during the warmer months and if you spend time in grassy, brushy or wooded areas. Try these tips from CDC.

Before you head out:

Pre-treat to repel ticks. Treat your boots, clothing, and hiking or camping gear with products containing 0.5% permethrin. Permethrin will remain protective on your clothing or gear even after you wash them several times.

When you’re outdoors:

Stay on trails. You're less likely to pick up ticks there. Avoid brush or branches that hang over your path.

After you go inside:

Take a shower. Do this soon after you've been where ticks live.

Check your clothes. Putting clothes in a hot dryer for 10 minutes may kill ticks.

Inspect your body for ticks. Pay special attention to under the arms, in and around the ears, in the belly button, the back of the knees, in the hair, between the legs, and around the waist. If your pets hit the trail with you, check them too. Dogs can get sick from ticks. And ticks can enter your home by hitching a ride on pets.

If you do find a tick, you will want to remove it and save it for identification in case you develop an infection. Here’s how.

If you get sick after being in tick-infested areas, tell your doctor.

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