Ticks are gross. There’s no question about it. It’s creepy to see one and worse yet to find one actually attached to your body, sucking your blood and possibly transmitting a serious disease in the meantime. Dr. Aileen M. Marty, a physician and head of the Florida International University’s Health Travel Medicine Program, tells SheKnows that while Lyme disease is by far the most commonly diagnosed tick-transmitted disease, there are quite a few others that humans can be exposed to. Here are some of the other unhappy consequences that can pop up after you’ve been feasted upon by one of these little jerks.
Rocky Mountain spotted fever
Rocky Mountain spotted fever is caused by a bacterium called Rickettsia rickettsii, Marty explains. Symptoms of RMSF can include fever, headache and spotted rash, and it can be deadly if not caught early and treated with the correct antibiotics (usually doxycycline). It’s spread by the American dog tick and the Rocky Mountain wood tick, and in parts of the Southwest, the brown dog tick.
Ehrlichiosis is a disease caused by a specific type of bacteria and is most commonly transmitted by the lone star tick according to the Centers for Disease Control. Symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue and muscle aches, which pop up a week or two after a tick bite. Again, doxycycline is the antibiotic most commonly used to fight this illness.
Anaplasmosis is transmitted most commonly by the black-legged tick as well as the Western black-legged tick according to the CDC. Similar to ehrlichiosis, anaplasmosis can cause symptoms such as fever, headache, chills and muscle aches and also takes one or two weeks to develop. Doxycycline is the preferred first-line treatment.
The Heartland virus has been found in, you guessed it, the Midwest as well as several Southern states. Symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, muscle aches and diarrhea according to the CDC. Unfortunately, there is no treatment for the actual virus, as antibiotics don’t treat viruses, but it’s possible that medications can help treat symptoms.
Babesiosis is an illness caused by microscopic parasites that are transmitted by black-legged ticks (also known as deer ticks) and is generally found in the Northeast and upper Midwest according to the CDC. These parasites are generally transmitted by ticks in the nymph stage, meaning they’re about the size of a poppy seed and are easily overlooked. It can be treated, and its symptoms are similar to other tick-borne diseases and include fever, chills, sweats, headache, body aches, fatigue, nausea or loss of appetite.
Red meat allergy
It’s not all bacteria, viruses and parasites that can cause problems in humans who suffer from a tick bite. Do you love hamburgers and barbacoa beef tacos? It’d be a huge bummer, and possibly life-threatening, if you develop a red meat allergy after a tick bite, which can totally happen, says Dr. Purvi Parikh, allergist and immunologist at the Allergy & Asthma Network.
The explanation is pretty science-y, but it boils down to a tick (generally a lone star tick) that has previously feasted upon a cow, then takes up residence on a human. “The human body then develops an allergy to the cow carbohydrate, and thus, this can cause a severe delayed reaction to beef and other meats,” she explains.
Parikh notes that symptoms are the same as other allergies, but it’s generally delayed. Symptoms include hives, vomiting, shortness of breath and dizziness and can pop up three to four hours after consuming red meat. She says it’s particularly noteworthy if you live in an area where there are tons of ticks and have suffered from a tick bite and explains that it’s possible the allergy will fade, but you’ll have to see a board-certified allergist to monitor the allergy every few years to see if it’s decreasing. As far as treatment, Parikh recommends complete avoidance, but also explains you’ll likely have to have an EpiPen on hand in case of exposure.
Avoiding tick bites
Of course, the easiest way to eliminate the possibility of experiencing any of the above tick-borne diseases (and unfortunately, there are quite a few more than listed here) is to never get bitten by a tick. The CDC recommends a few steps for prevention, including treating clothing and gear with products that contain 0.5 percent permethrin, which can actually last through several washings. Additionally, treat any exposed skin with insect repellent (here’s a handy guide from the EPA on finding a good one). Walk on trails, and avoid tall grasses and leaf litter. Thoroughly check your clothes and your body for ticks after being outdoors.
If you’ve experienced a tick bite and begin experiencing any of the above-mentioned symptoms within a week or two, the CDC suggests visiting your doctor right away. Early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent serious illness. And in the meantime, take steps to avoid getting a tick bite in the first place and enjoy your time outdoors by taking precautions.