Ticks are much more than an itchy irritant searching for a blood meal. They are tiny creatures that pack a big punch by being very efficient vectors, tied only with mosquitos for the number of diseases they can effectively carry and transmit. Ticks pose a serious health threat to both humans and animals and the transmission of transferring diseases between humans and animals.
Ticks transmit diseases from one host to another during the feeding process. Ticks will attach to its host, grasping the skin and cutting into the surface where it will insert its feeding tube to feed. Some ticks have barbs on the feeding tube or are able to secrete a cement-like substance that helps anchor them in place. The tick then secretes saliva that has an anesthetic that prevents the host from feeling the tick feeding. If the tick is carrying a pathogen, it will transmit it in the saliva to the host. Or, if the host has a pathogen, it will pick it up when feeding on the host’s blood and carry it to the new host. Here, we will take a look at the diseases that are transmitted by ticks.
Anaplasmosis, previously known as human granulocytic ehrlichiosis (HGE), is transmitted primarily through blacklegged tick bites containing the bacterium Anaplasma phagocytophilum. Symptoms begin one to two weeks after an infected tick bit and include flu-like symptoms — fever, chills, severe headache, muscle aches, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. If left untreated, it may result in respiratory failure, bleeding problems, organ failure, and death. Your doctor can order an anaplasmosis blood test and prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection.
Anaplasmosis in dogs presents with thrombocytopenia and hemolytic anemia but isn’t typically caught until it is in the chronic stages because of the lack of more obvious symptoms. Your veterinarian can order a blood test which produces answers, and the condition is treatable with antibiotics.
Babesiosis is a parasitic infection that is transmitted to humans and animals by black-legged or deer ticks. The parasite attacks the red blood cells and causes a rare form of anemia. Those who are infected may experience flu-like symptoms which can escalate to severe hemolytic anemia, organ failure, and death. Babesiosis can be diagnosed by a blood test and is treated with an antiparasitic.
Canine babesiosis is on the rise in the United States and it is not clear if that is due to increased infection rates or better diagnosis as the disease becomes better understood. Various forms of Babesiosis can also affect cattle, buffalo, zebu, sheep, goats, horses, donkeys, swine, deer, wolves, foxes, wildcats, and pumas.
Borrelia mayonii is the proposed name for a newly discovered bacterial infection that is spread by blacklegged ticks, and was previously thought to be a strain of Lyme disease. The symptoms are similar to Lyme disease, but additionally cause nausea, vomiting, rash, and a much higher concentration of bacteria. This disease is still in the research phase but can be diagnosed with a blood test and treated with currently available antibiotics.
Borrelia miyamotoi is a bacterial infection, similar to Lyme disease and tick-borne relapsing fever (TBRF), and is carried by the deer tick and western black-legged tick. Symptoms include fever, chills, headache, joint pain, and fatigue. Laboratory tests to diagnose the disease are still under development, but effective treatment options include doxycycline.
Bourbon virus was discovered in 2014 and it is still unclear as to whether it is transmitted by ticks or other insect vectors such as fleas or mosquitos. Symptoms include fever, fatigue, rash, headache, body ache, nausea with vomiting, and low blood cell counts. It is still unclear if the virus affects domestic or wild animals. Blood tests to confirm diagnosis are still under development and treatment is limited to treating the symptoms.
Colorado tick fever (CTF)
CTF is a viral infection that is transmitted by wood ticks living at 4,000 feet in altitude. Symptoms include high fever, chills, headache, body aches, and fatigue. There are no definitive lab tests nor medications to treat the disease. CTF is of particular concern in children, as it may result in encephalitis, meningitis, and blood disorders. CTF is also transmitted to small mammals including squirrels and chipmunks.
Cytauxzoonosis is a parasite that affects cats infected by ticks. Symptoms include ischemia and thrombosis and is commonly fatal within seven days of the onset of symptoms. Blood smears can identify the parasite and treatment includes supporting the immune system and treating symptoms with anticoagulants and supportive fluids. If the cat survives the first seven days, the outcome will likely be positive.
Ehrlichiosis is the general name for several tick-borne bacterial diseases that affect animals and humans. Symptoms typically appear within one or two weeks of the tick but and include fever, headache, fatigue, and muscle aches. Specialized lab tests can confirm diagnosis and treatment is doxycycline or other antibiotics.
Canine Ehrlichiosis may also present with blood abnormalities, anorexia, and weight loss, and symptoms seem to be more persistent and severe in German Shepherd dogs. Serological tests can confirm a diagnosis and canine treatment also includes doxycycline.
Heartland virus is spread by lone-star ticks in the Midwest and the southern United States. Signs and symptoms include fever, fatigue, headache, muscle aches, diarrhea. Although there is no diagnostic test that will confirm Heartland virus, many patients present with low white blood cell and platelet counts and increased liver enzymes. There are no known treatments, medical care is focused on treating symptoms.
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that is transferred by the blacklegged tick. Symptoms include a rash that looks like a target, fever, headache, and fatigue. If left untreated, the infection can spread to joints, heart, and nervous system where it causes trouble. Lyme disease can be diagnosed with a blood test and treated with antibiotics.
Lyme disease is also found to affect dogs, cats, cattle, horses, mice, and deer. In animals, common symptoms include sudden lameness, arthritis, swollen joints, anorexia, fever, inactivity, and swollen lymph nodes. The rash that is the normal indicator in humans is usually not present in animals. A blood test can confirm Lyme disease and animals can be treated with antibiotics. There is a canine vaccine to prevent Lyme disease in pet dogs.
Powassan disease is a viral infection spread by the blacklegged tick. Symptoms have a fairly quick onset and include fever, headache, vomiting, weakness, confusion, seizures, memory loss, encephalitis, and may result in respiratory failure if left untreated. A blood test can confirm a diagnosis, however, because it is a viral infection, medical treatment is limited to supportive care and treatment of the symptoms.
While Powassan disease has been identified in small mammals such as woodchucks, squirrels, and chipmunks, no cases have been identified in livestock or domesticated animals.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF)
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) is a bacterial disease that is spread through the bite of an infected American dog tick, Rocky Mountain wood tick, or a brown dog tick. Symptoms include fever, headache, and widespread rash. Without treatment, the systemic rash may cause damage to blood vessels and tissue that results in amputation. Blood tests can confirm diagnosis and treatment is typically successful with antibiotics.
Canine Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever symptoms are typically mild, but in severe, untreated cases may cause damage to the heart or brain, causing shock or death. There are no vaccines available, so it is important to use anti-tick treatment to prevent tick bites on your pet.
Southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI)
STARI, also known as Masters disease, is a bacterial infection caused by a bite from an infected Lone-star tick. Symptoms are similar to Lyme disease, including a target-like infection at the site of the bite. The main difference between STARI and Lyme disease is the infectious agent that causes it as well as a lack of other symptoms aside from rash and fatigue. Additionally, STARI does not report a positive test result on blood tests and is diagnosed based on symptomology. Treatment includes a course of antibiotics.
Tick-borne relapsing fever (TBRF)
Tick-borne relapsing fever is a bacterial infection transmitted by soft ticks that live in the nests of small rodents and feed quickly. The symptoms are similar to that of other tick-borne illnesses including a headache and muscle and joint pain, but the fever tends to be more severe — 103 degrees. The hallmark sign of TBRF is that the fever typically lasts for around three days, then resolves for a week, and then reappears. This pattern will continue until antibiotics are used to clear the infection.
Tularaemia is a bacterial infection caused by bug bites from infected ticks, flies, and mosquitos. While Tularaemia is primarily an animal disease — found in rabbits squirrels, birds, sheep, cats, and dogs — it also affects humans. Symptoms begin with an ulcer at the site of infection and may also include swollen, painful lymph glands, stiff neck, fever and chills, muscle and joint pain, headache, shortness of breath and chest pain, and rash. A blood test or swab can confirm diagnosis which can be treated with antibiotics.
Tick-borne illnesses are preventable by preventing tick bites. For humans, that includes wearing long pants and socks while in areas that have ticks and checking skin for ticks to promptly remove them. For pets and animals, tick prevention treatments prevent ticks from biting the animal, and checks can be done after leaving places that are known to be inhabited by ticks. If you or your animals have been bitten by ticks and develop any symptoms, talk to your physician or veterinarian about ordering a blood test or have an order a blood test online. Most tick-borne diseases are treatable, so knowing the answers sooner rather than later is in your best interest. For more information or to order your online blood test, contact us at Galaxy Diagnostics today!