It’s tick season again, and those blood-sucking creatures can transmit a host of diseases, most of which produce symptoms such as fever, chills, aches, pains, rashes and neurological problems. Illness from ticks can also be difficult to diagnose, since symptoms can often resemble a variety of viral or bacterial infections.
Ticks can cause an array of diseases, including Lyme disease (the most popular tick-borne disease, with approximately 20,000 to 30,000 cases reported each year in the U.S.); Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever; Colorado tick fever; tularemia; Q fever; and others. One tick-borne disease, babesiosis, causing symptoms similar to malaria, is on the rise in the U.S.
Babesiosis invades red blood cells and is carried by deer ticks, which are the same kind of ticks that carry Lyme disease. Symptoms of babesiosis include fever, chills, fatigue, sweats, headache and muscle pain. Babesiosis is among newly emerging tick-borne diseases, some of which can cause fatal encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain.
Dr. Peter Krause, a researcher at the Yale School of Public Health in New Haven, Connecticut, states, “Today’s findings [on the increasing incidence of babesiosis] underscore the shifting landscape of tick-borne diseases, whose rapid emergence can challenge the best efforts of science and medicine to diagnose, treat and prevent their occurrence.”
Ticks are found all over the United States as well as worldwide, and people are most at risk for being “tick prey” during spring and summer months, typically April through September. During ticks’ lifetime, they go through four stages—from egg to adult—each of which requires an increasingly larger blood host in order for ticks to survive.
Interestingly, ticks often find their hosts by sensing body heat, moisture and movement vibrations. And while they can’t fly or jump, ticks often wait in a position known as “questing,” which is holding onto leaves and grass by their third and fourth pairs of legs. Their first pair of legs are outstretched, waiting to climb onto the host and to attach itself quickly to its host or look for thinner skin, such as that on the ear. It doesn’t take long for them to feed, either. Depending on the type of tick, they can start feeding within ten minutes or up to two hours.
And we’re in the thick of tick season, so beware and do all you can to avoid ticks, which are found mostly in wooded areas, brushy areas or in tall vegetation. Be sure to wear light-colored clothing that covers your body, and wear repellent—preferably, a natural repellent so you avoid unwanted chemicals. Be sure to tuck your pant legs into your socks, and stay on trails while walking outdoors or hiking. Additionally, have someone check if you’ve picked up any ticks after you’ve been outside.
Stay safe out there—and avoid those blood suckers.