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- Because deer ticks feed on human and animal blood, they can transmit potentially dangerous bacteria and viruses to their human hosts.
- Ticks are most active in warmer seasons, and cases of tick-borne illnesses are on the rise in the U.S.
- A case of Powassan virus, one tick-borne disease, was reported in Maine for the first time since 2017. Two other cases of the virus were reported in northern New Jersey this summer.
- Ticks can also transmit Lyme disease, babesiosis parasites, ehrlichiosis, anaplasmosis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
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The deer tick, also known as the black-legged tick, is a common summer nuisance. It’s also a danger: Because ticks feed on the blood of human and animal hosts, they often pick up and spread germs from meal to meal. As a result, they can trasmit all kinds of nasty illnesses, from parasites to bacterial infections, to their human hosts.
Tick-borne diseases of all kinds are on the rise in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, up by more than 10,000 cases from 2016 to 2017.
Ticks can be found in grassy or wooded areas, and are active any time temperatures are above freezing. Still, they’re most common in spring and late summer to autumn, according to the New York Department of Health.
With tick season in full swing, it’s important to be familiar with the illnesses they can carry, from the bacteria that causes Lyme disease to the newly emerging Powassan virus.
Powassan, a rare viral infection, has shown up in Maine and New Jersey.
The virus causes fever, headache, vomiting, and fatigue. Severe cases can be fatal, since the virus can cause infection of the brain and spinal cord, resulting in disorientation, seizures, and loss of coordination and speech, according to the CDC. Long-term side effects can include loss of strength and memory problems.
There is no treatment, and INSIDER previously reported that people infected have about a 50% chance of permanent damage and a 10% chance of death.
Lyme disease is the fastest-growing bug-borne illness in the nation.
About 300,000 Americans each year report cases of Lyme disease, according to the CDC, and the number of actual cases that go unreported could be 8 to 10 times higher.
Caused by Borrelia bacteria, Lyme disease can give you a fever, rash, muscle aches, and fatigue. In severe cases, it can cause nerve pain and damage, facial paralysis, and inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. It is recognizable by a distinct “bull’s eye” rash, or a red spot on the skin surrounded by a red ring.
Ticks also spread microscopic parasites that attack your red blood cells.
Babesia microtiare are spread by young ticks that are usually about the size of a poppy seed. The parasites themselves aren’t visible and go after red blood cells, causing anemia and flu-like symptoms.
Many people infected, however, don’t have symptoms and don’t need treatment, according to the CDC. Babesiosis can be severe or deadly for older people or others who have weakened immune systems.
Ehrlichiosis and anaplasmosis cause headaches, nausea, confusion and, if left untreated, death.
Caused by a variety of bacteria carried by ticks, ehrlichiosis is another flu-like illness, with symptoms like muscle aches, fever, chills, headache, and upset stomach. It also occasionally causes a rash, but symptoms typically don’t start until one to two weeks after exposure to infected ticks, the CDC says.
Ehrlichiosis can be treated with antibiotics, but left alone it can cause serious and potentially deadly symptoms like respiratory failure, brain damage, and uncontrolled bleeding.
Symptoms of Rocky Mountain spotted fever include a rash, stomach pain, and loss of appetite.
- Photo courtesy of Danielle McNair
Several species of ticks throughout the U.S. can spread Rocky Mountain spotted fever, a bacterial infection. Although difficult to distinguish from other tick-borne ailments, it can be recognized by a fever coinciding with a rash a few days later. It can also cause vomiting, stomach cramps, muscle pain, and loss of appetite.
Severe cases can permanently damage the blood vessels in the fingers, toes, arms, and legs, sometimes requiring amputation. Rocky Mountain spotted fever can be treated with antibiotics.