Published on February 19, 2013 by Amy
Being filled with the passion for the outdoors, frontier lovers spend a great deal of time deep in the forest or marching through grasslands; both are prime habitats of one of the most dreaded outdoor pests…
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Ticks are very adaptive creatures; found in nearly every country in the world, able to survive extreme starvation (some species up to 16 years), and having a life expectancy of up to 21 years for some. There are over 300 different species of ticks known, and they are all parasitic. Hosts can range from plants, insects and crustaceans to dogs, deer, and even humans.
Ticks transmit the greatest variety of diseases, second only to mosquitoes, by serving as a vector for viruses, bacteria and protozoans. When ticks are found on humans, they carry with them a fear of disease such as: Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Colorado Tick Fever, Tularemia, Ehrlichiosis, Babesiosis and of course, Lyme disease. The highest incident of tick related diseases occur between May and September, the warm months when ticks are most active. In order to protect yourself and family during these months, this article will describe ticks, the diseases they carry and their symptoms, and ways to help prevent being bitten by ticks. Keep in mind this article is to help inform you, and should NOT be taken as medical advice. If symptoms appear following a tick bite, see a physician right away.
Ticks are eight-legged relatives of spiders and scorpions. They are all external parasites which undergo a life cycle in stages, called instars, they begin as one of up to 18,000 eggs which hatches into a six-legged larvae. The larvae will attach itself to a host, feed, and then molt into an eight-legged nymph, which may molt up to five times (depending on species) before becoming an adult. This entire cycle may be as short as six weeks or may take up to three years to complete depending on species and how often it can locate a host to feed on. Some ticks are one-host ticks and can complete the entire life cycle on one host, the likelihood of this passing a disease is small, although still possible. The two-host, three-host, or many-host ticks provide a greater threat as they feast on different hosts at different stages in their life. This increases the chances of passing a disease from one host to the next.
Lyme disease has received a great amount of attention since it was first reported in 1975. Since then it has become the most reported arthropod borne disease in the United States. Despite the horrible reputation of Lyme disease there have been only a few fatalities. Lyme disease is caused by the bacteria Borrelia bugdorferi, and it can only be passed to the host if the tick is embedded into the skin for a day or two. This means that very few bites will result in the disease. Lyme disease is most commonly carried by the black-legged tick, also known as the deer tick and also by the lone star tick. Most cases of the disease have been reported in the northeast, the Pacific coast, and the upper mid-northwest, all of which are good deer locations. Symptoms usually appear after a few days and can occur up to a month later. The most typical symptom is a round “bulls eye” shaped rash, which will expand outward in a circular manner. This can be accompanied by fever, headaches, malaise, stiff neck and joint pain. If untreated, the disease can cause severe irreversible nervous and cardiovascular disorders. If treated quickly, the disease can be stopped with some simple antibiotics from the doctor. However, this treatment is not a vaccination and one is capable of getting Lyme disease again.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) occurs throughout the continental United States. It is caused by a rickettsiae which multiplies in the cells which line blood vessels. It is the bursting of the cells which can cause such symptoms as a rash (which may not appear until six days later), headache, delirium and if left untreated can ultimately cause heart failure, renal failure, and neurologic disorders. The disease usually appears about two to eight days after the tick bite and is associated with a fever of about 105 degrees. It is commonly carried by the wood tick, the dog tick, and the lone star tick. Treatment usually involves aggressive antibiotic therapy. RMSF carries a mortality rate of five to seven percent and most fatalities occur in patients which are not diagnosed until the second week of illness.
Tularemia is an infection caused by the bacteria Francisella tularensis. It was identified in 1911, and is usually passed by ticks or by handling contaminated meat (usually rabbits). The disease can be found everywhere in the U.S., but tick bites are the cause of most of the cases in the midwest and the east. The bacteria can be carried by the lone star, Pacific coast, American dog, western and common black-legged tick as well as horseflies. The bacteria is capable of entering the body by the mouth, nose, eyes, or even through the skin. Symptoms of the disease can occur from one to ten days after infection, but effects are usually seen in two to four days. Symptoms of the disease include fever (103-104 degrees), fatigue, chills, and headache. If the organism penetrates the skin, usually an ulcer will develop at the sight of entry. If the organism is inhaled, pneumonia may appear, which will be evident in an X-ray. The disease is treated with an antibiotic, if left untreated, the disease has a five percent mortality rate.
Babesiosis was first diagnosed in 1969 in Massachusetts. It is caused by a protozoan, Babesia, which parasites red blood cells. It is transmitted by the black-legged tick and by contact with contaminated blood. It is most common in the northeast, but cases have also been reported in Wisconsin. Symptoms include fatigue, chills, fever, muscle and joint pain. The disease is sometimes fatal, especially in patients lacking a spleen; however, it is a rare disease, contributing to only a few hundred cases in the last 20 years.
Colorado tick fever occurs in the mountainous western states and has about 200-300 cases reported each year. It is a viral disease (which means antibiotics are not effective) and lasts about a week. Due to its self limiting nature it very rarely causes death. It is chiefly spread by the Rocky Mountain wood tick. Symptoms occur suddenly after an incubation of three to six days, and consist of fever, headache, chills, muscle pain, and sometimes a rash.
Ehrlichiosis is caused by a bacteria that is often found in the same ticks that transmit Lyme disease. The diseases can occur simultaneously, so tests for both should be done if infection is suspected. Most cases occur in the South Central and Southeastern United States. Symptoms have a more sudden onset than those of Lyme disease. They include fever, vomiting, muscle aches, chills, anemia, and a decrease in all types of blood cells. The disease is not as common as Lyme disease, but is deadlier. It is usually treated with antibiotics.
Tick-Borne Relapsing Fever is caused by the bacteria Borrelia, which is related to the causative agent of Lyme disease. It is transmitted by soft ticks and occurs most often in the western United States. The fever is most distinguished by reoccurring periods of fever, which goes on for about two to nine days. Other symptoms include chills, headache, muscle and joint pain. It may be difficult to identify the diseases by the presence of a tick, because soft ticks quickly fall off the host after they have eaten.