Ticks feed on the blood of animals and humans. They are found in woods and areas with high grass and may attach to your skin when you walk by.
And as they bury their heads into your skin to feed, they could potentially share their bacteria with you.
Many people are now familiar with the bullseye rash that forms after a tick infects a person with Lyme disease. Over the past decade, a new type of tick-borne illness named hard tick relapsing fever has been identified in the upper midwest and mid-Atlantic states.
How Is It Different From Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease is caused by Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria. This new infectious disease is caused by the closely related Borrelia miyamotoi bacteria.
The incubation period is generally shorter than Lyme disease (which can sometimes take 30 days before you begin experiencing symptoms), though not much is known or confirmed yet about this new illness.
It doesn’t present with the characteristic bullseye rash that Lyme disease is known for, but some flu-like symptoms and other signs may be similar.
Common symptoms of Borrelia miyamotoi infection include:
- Severe headache
- Joint stiffness
- Muscle pain
Sometimes, but not commonly, there may also be symptoms of:
- Dizziness or vertigo
- Difficulty breathing
- Nausea and diarrhea
- Abdominal pain
If you’ve been bitten by a tick in the last few weeks and are experiencing any of these symptoms, see your doctor immediately.
Is It Treatable?
Although it’s always good to be mindful of ticks and take precautions against them, this new information about relapsing fever should not cause you undue anxiety.
Borrelia miyamotoi infection is still infrequent, and a relatively small number of ticks carry it.
And if you do happen to catch it, this new tick-borne illness can be treated with the same antibiotics and dosages that are used for Lyme disease patients.
How To Avoid Ticks
When you’re in areas where ticks are known to frequent, there are some simple steps you can take to avoid them:
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants.
- Tuck your pant legs into your socks so that ticks can’t crawl inside your clothing.
- Wear light-colored clothing so that ticks are easier to spot.
- Use bug spray or insect repellent that is specifically designed to repel ticks.
- Keep your grass cut short and remove any brush or piles of leaves from your yard since these can provide hiding places for ticks.
- Check yourself, your children, and your pets for ticks after spending time outdoors.
If you find a tick on your skin, remove it as soon as possible. With fine-tipped tweezers, grasp the tick as close to your skin as possible and pull it straight out.
Don’t squeeze, twist, or jerk the tick since this could press more bacteria into your skin.
After removing the tick, clean the bite area and your hands thoroughly with antiseptic rubbing alcohol, soap, and water.
If you experience any of the symptoms mentioned above, see your doctor immediately. Lyme disease is treatable; the sooner it’s diagnosed, the better.