Understanding Tick-Borne Diseases: A Comprehensive Guide

Apr 11 , 2024

Lisa-Jae Eggert

Understanding Tick-Borne Diseases: A Comprehensive Guide



Ticks are tiny but mighty vectors of various diseases that affect humans, capable of transmitting bacteria, viruses, and parasites through their bites. While enjoying the great outdoors brings numerous benefits to our physical and mental health, it also exposes us to these tiny threats. This guide aims to shed light on the different diseases transmitted by ticks, their symptoms, prevention measures, and the importance of early detection and treatment.

The World of Ticks and Their Diseases

Ticks are not just a nuisance; they are carriers of serious diseases. They are most active during warmer months, but in some areas, they can pose a risk year-round. Understanding the diseases ticks can transmit is the first step in protecting yourself and your loved ones.

1. Lyme Disease

Causative Agent: Bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi and Borrelia mayonii.

Symptoms: Fever, headache, fatigue, and a characteristic skin rash called erythema migrans.

Prevention: Use of repellents, wearing protective clothing, and performing tick checks after outdoor activities.

Treatment: Early-stage Lyme disease can sometimes be treated effectively with antibiotics.

2. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF)

Causative Agent: Bacteria Rickettsia rickettsii.

Symptoms: Fever, headache, rash, and muscle aches.

Prevention: Similar to Lyme disease, with emphasis on tick habitat avoidance.

Treatment: Doxycycline is the first line of treatment, effective when started early.

3. Anaplasmosis

Causative Agent: Bacteria Anaplasma phagocytophilum.

Symptoms: Fever, headache, muscle pain, and malaise.

Prevention and Treatment: Similar to Lyme disease and RMSF.

4. Ehrlichiosis

Causative Agent: Bacteria from the Ehrlichia species.

Symptoms: Fever, chills, severe headaches, muscle aches, and sometimes gastrointestinal symptoms.

Prevention and Treatment: Similar to the other tick-borne diseases mentioned, with doxycycline as a key treatment.

5. Babesiosis

Causative Agent: Protozoan parasites Babesia.

Symptoms: Many people have no symptoms, but it can cause fever, chills, sweats, fatigue, and jaundice.

Prevention: Avoiding tick-infested areas, using repellents, and performing tick checks.

Treatment: Combination of antimicrobial medications.

6. Powassan Virus Disease

Causative Agent: Powassan virus.

Symptoms: Many do not develop symptoms, but it can lead to severe neurological issues.

Prevention and Treatment: There is no specific treatment, making prevention crucial.

7. Alpha-gal Syndrome: The Meat Allergy Tick Disease

Causative Agent: Triggered by the bite of the Lone Star tick, which transmits the alpha-gal sugar molecule into the human body.

Symptoms: Unlike typical immediate allergic reactions, symptoms of AGS often occur 3-6 hours after consuming red meat or mammal-derived products and can include hives, itching, stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea, difficulty breathing, drop in blood pressure, dizziness, or faintness.

Prevention: The best prevention method is to avoid tick bites through the use of repellents, wearing protective clothing, and performing thorough tick checks after spending time outdoors. Individuals diagnosed with AGS should also avoid consuming red meat and mammal-derived products.

Treatment: Treatment focuses on managing symptoms after exposure. For ongoing management, individuals with AGS must adhere to a diet avoiding mammalian meats and products. In cases of accidental ingestion, antihistamines may be used to alleviate mild symptoms, but severe reactions may require epinephrine.

8. Tularemia

Causative Agent: The bacterium *Francisella tularensis*.

Symptoms: Sudden fever, chills, headaches, diarrhea, muscle aches, joint pain, dry cough, and progressive weakness. People can also catch pneumonic tularemia by breathing in dust or aerosols contaminated with the bacterium.

Prevention: Avoiding tick bites, wearing gloves when handling sick or dead animals, and not disturbing soil where the bacterium may be present.

Treatment: Antibiotics such as streptomycin, gentamicin, doxycycline, or ciprofloxacin are effective.

9. Colorado Tick Fever

Causative Agent: A virus transmitted by the Rocky Mountain wood tick.

Symptoms: Fever, chills, headache, body aches, and fatigue, typically occurring within a few days of the tick bite.

Prevention: Similar to other tick-borne diseases, focusing on avoiding tick bites.

Treatment: There's no specific treatment for Colorado Tick Fever; care is supportive, focusing on relieving symptoms.

10. Tick-Borne Relapsing Fever (TBRF)

Causative Agent: Bacteria of the genus *Borrelia*, transmitted by soft ticks.

Symptoms: Recurring episodes of fever, headache, muscle and joint aches, and nausea.

Prevention: Avoid sleeping in rodent-infested cabins and using insect repellents.

Treatment: Antibiotics such as doxycycline or tetracycline are effective.

11. Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness (STARI)

Causative Agent: Unclear, but associated with the bite of the lone star tick.

Symptoms: A red, expanding “bull's-eye” rash similar to that seen in Lyme disease, fatigue, fever, headache, muscle, and joint pains.

Prevention and Treatment: Prevention focuses on avoiding tick bites. The treatment approach can be similar to that for Lyme disease, including the use of antibiotics, although the causative agent is not well understood.

Emerging Tick-Borne Diseases

New tick-borne diseases are also occasionally identified, as pathogens evolve and as surveillance and diagnostic methods improve. For instance, the discovery of the Heartland virus and the Bourbon virus in the United States are examples of emerging tick-borne diseases that have been identified in the past decade.

1. Heartland Virus Disease

Causative Agent: The Heartland virus, transmitted by the lone star tick.

Symptoms: Fever, fatigue, decreased appetite, headache, nausea, diarrhea, and muscle or joint pain.

Prevention: Avoiding tick bites, and using repellents is crucial as there's no vaccine or specific treatment for Heartland virus disease.

Treatment: Supportive care to relieve symptoms, as specific antiviral treatment is not available.

2. Bourbon Virus Disease

Discovery: First identified in Kansas in 2014, Bourbon Virus Disease highlights the evolving nature of tick-borne illnesses and the need for continuous surveillance.

Causative Agent: The disease is caused by the Bourbon virus, named after Bourbon County, Kansas, where the first case was identified. The virus belongs to the *Thogotovirus* genus, which is known to be transmitted through tick bites.

Symptoms: Individuals infected with the Bourbon virus may experience a range of symptoms, typically beginning with fever, fatigue, rash, headache, body aches, and nausea. These symptoms can vary in severity and duration, and in severe cases, the disease can lead to hospitalization.

Prevention: The best strategies include avoiding areas known for high tick activity, especially during peak tick season. Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) compliant insect repellents, along with protective clothing. Additionally, wearing light colored clothing can make spotting ticks easier, and placing clothes immediately in the dryer after being outdoors for 15 minutes on high will help to kill any ticks that may have hitchhiked onto clothing.

Treatment: As of now, there is no specific antiviral treatment for Bourbon Virus Disease. Medical care is supportive, focusing on relieving symptoms and, when necessary, providing hospital care for more severe cases.

The Global Challenge of Tick-Borne Diseases

Tick-Borne Encephalitis (TBE) is found in European and Asian countries. The risk of exposure is especially high in forested areas of central, eastern, and northern Europe, as well as northern China, Mongolia, and the Russian Federation. For travelers to high-risk areas, consultation with a healthcare provider about the TBE vaccination is an essential part of travel preparation.

Tick-borne Encephalitis (TBE): More common in European and Asian countries.

Causative Agent: The disease is caused by the Tick-Borne Encephalitis virus (TBEV), which belongs to the family Flaviviridae. There are three subtypes of the TBE virus: European (Western), Siberian, and Far Eastern, each associated with different regions and varying degrees of severity.

Transmission: TBEV is primarily transmitted to humans through the bite of infected Ixodes ticks. However, consuming unpasteurized milk products from infected animals can also pose a risk.

Symptoms: TBE can manifest in varying degrees of severity. In its milder form, symptoms may include fever, fatigue, and muscle pain. However, the disease can progress to more severe neurological symptoms, including Meningitis (inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord), Encephalitis (brain inflammation), Radiculitis (inflammation of the nerve root)

Prevention (Vaccination): The cornerstone of TBE prevention is vaccination, which is recommended for people living in or traveling to areas where TBE is prevalent. The vaccination schedule typically involves several doses to achieve optimal immunity. Other preventive measures include using insect repellents to avoid tick bites, wearing protective clothing when venturing into areas known for tick activity, and Avoiding the consumption of unpasteurized dairy products in regions where TBEV transmission is possible.

Treatment: While there is no specific antiviral treatment for TBE, supportive care can help alleviate symptoms and manage complications. This may include hospitalization, especially for severe cases involving neurological symptoms.

Prevention: The First Line of Defense

Preventing tick bites is essential in combating tick-borne diseases. At 3MomsOrganics, we believe in the power of prevention when it comes to safeguarding our families and loved ones from tick-borne diseases. That's why we created TiceWise, a product born from our commitment to health and natural protection. Understanding that tick bites are the primary gateway for diseases such as Lyme, we've focused our efforts on crafting a solution that is both effective and safe, using quality natural ingredients. TickWise is our answer to the need for a reliable, non-toxic way to help prevent these dangerous bites, ensuring peace of mind for everyone who steps outdoors.

Here are additional effective strategies:

1. Avoid known tick habitats.

2. Use EPA-compliant tick repellent.

3. Wear protective clothing.

4. Wearing light colored clothing helps for spotting ticks

5.  Place clothing immediately in the dryer - after being outdoors - for 15 minutes on high to kill any ticks that may have hitchhiked into clothing.

6. Remove leaf litter.

7. Clear tall grasses and brush around homes and at the edge of lawns.

8. Place a 3-ft wide barrier of wood chips or gravel between lawns and wooded areas to restrict tick migration into recreational areas.

9. Mow the lawn frequently.

10. Stack wood neatly and in a dry area (discourages rodents also).

11. Keep playground equipment, decks, and patios away from yard edges and trees.

12. Discourage unwelcome animals (such as deer, raccoons, and stray dogs) from entering your yard by constructing fences.

13. Remove old furniture, mattresses, or trash from the yard that can give ticks a place to hide.

14. Perform regular tick checks on yourself, your children, and pets after being outdoors.


When Ticks Bite: Detection and Removal

Early detection and proper removal of ticks can significantly reduce the risk of disease transmission. If you find a tick attached to your skin:

1. Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin's surface as possible.

2. Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Do not twist or jerk the tick.

3. Clean the bite area and your hands thoroughly.

4. After safely removing a tick, rather than disposing of it immediately, it's wise to consider saving it for analysis. This step can provide valuable information about potential exposure to tick-borne diseases.

After safely removing a tick, here's what you should do:

1. Store the Tick Properly: Place the tick in a small container or plastic bag. You can also stick it onto a piece of paper or tape. Make sure it's sealed and labeled with the date and location of the bite.

2. Seek Professional Analysis: Contact your local health department, a veterinarian (if the bite was on a pet), or a medical professional to inquire about tick testing options in your area. Some regions offer services that identify the tick species and test for pathogens like Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and others.

3. Monitor for Symptoms: Keep an eye out for any signs of tick-borne diseases in the weeks following the bite. Symptoms can include rash, fever, fatigue, and joint pain. Having the tick analyzed can help you and your healthcare provider make informed decisions about any necessary treatment.

4. Document and Report: Recording the details of your tick encounter can contribute to broader tick-borne disease surveillance efforts. Reporting the bite to your local health department helps track and manage tick populations and disease risk.

Why Saving the Tick Matters

By preserving the tick for identification and potential testing, you gain a more precise understanding of your risk for specific diseases. This information can be crucial for early detection and treatment, which is often key to preventing more severe outcomes of tick-borne illnesses.

While not all ticks carry diseases, and not all bites will result in illness, taking these precautionary steps empowers you with knowledge and contributes to your peace of mind.


Understanding the various diseases transmitted by ticks is crucial for outdoor enthusiasts and the general public alike. By taking preventative measures against tick bites and being aware of the symptoms of these diseases, we can protect ourselves and enjoy the great outdoors safely. Remember, knowledge is power, especially when it comes to preventing and managing tick-borne diseases.

Our comprehensive overview underscores the complexity of tick-borne diseases and highlights the importance of ongoing education, prevention, and research in mitigating the health impacts of ticks. As our knowledge of these diseases continues to grow, so too will our strategies for prevention and treatment, helping to safeguard public health against these tiny but formidable foes.

 Stay vigilant, stay informed, and stay safe.

 For more information regarding tick-borne diseases: 



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