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Ticks (cont.)

Tick-Borne Diseases

The following is a list of tick-borne diseases that may be found in the U.S., the usual tick vector(s), and the organism responsible for the disease that the tick transmits:

  • Lyme disease (borreliosis) -- Ixodes species (also known as black-legged ticks) including deer ticks (hard ticks) -- vectors for Borrelia species of bacteria (a spirochete or spiral-shaped bacterium)
  • Babesiosis -- Ixodes species (hard ticks) -- vectors for Babesia, a protozoan
  • Ehrlichiosis -- Amblyomma americanum or lone star ticks (hard ticks) -- vectors for Ehrlichia chaffeensis and Ehrlichia ewingii bacterial species
  • Rocky Mountain spotted fever -- Dermacentor variabilis (American dog tick) and Rocky Mountain wood tick (Dermacentor andersoni) (hard tick) are the primary vectors and occasionally the brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus); Amblyomma cajennense (hard tick) is the vector in countries south of the United States -- vectors for Rickettsia bacteria
  • Southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI) -- Amblyomma americanum or lone star tick (hard tick) -- infectious agent not yet identified according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); some researchers suggest Borrelia lonestari may be the infectious agent.
  • Tick-borne relapsing fever -- Ornithodoros moubata or African tick (soft tick) -- vectors for Borrelia species of bacteria
  • Tularemia -- Dermacentor variabilis (American dog tick) (hard tick) and Amblyomma americanum or lone star tick (hard tick) -- vectors for Francisella tularensis bacteria
  • Anaplasmosis (human granulocytic anaplasmosis or HGA) -- Ixodes species (hard tick) -- vectors for Anaplasma phagocytophilum bacteria
  • Colorado tick fever -- Dermacentor andersoni (hard tick) -- vectors for Coltivirus, an RNA virus
  • Powassan encephalitis -- Ixodes species and Dermacentor andersoni (both hard ticks) -- vectors for Powassan encephalitis virus, an RNA arbovirus
  • Q fever -- Rhipicephalus sanguineus, Dermacentor andersoni, and Amblyomma americanum (all three are hard ticks) -- vectors for Coxiella burnetii, a bacterium
  • African cattle disease -- Rhipicephalus evertsi also known as red ticks -- vector for parasites or bacterial infections in cattle
  • Heartland viral disease -- Amblyomma americanum or lone star tick (hard tick) -- new viral disease discovered in 2012 in South/Central U.S.

Outbreaks of tick-related illnesses follow seasonal patterns (about April to September in the U.S.) as ticks evolve from larvae to adults. Mild winters with an early spring often result in a high number of ticks and an increased frequency of the diseases they transmit. Different ticks go through complex life cycles (for example, see Figure 3) that involve mating and larval formation and usually have several hosts; humans are usually not an essential part of the normal tick life cycle, but wherever a mammalian host is pictured in a tick life cycle, usually a human can replace the normal host animal. For example, in Figure 3, people could replace the deer or cow. However, in most cases, the life cycle is not completed with human hosts. Also, it is possible that more than one pathogen may pass to a human from one tick bite (for example, Lyme disease and babesiosis).

This is the life cycle of ticks; humans are alternate hosts.
Figure 3: This is the life cycle of ticks; humans are alternate hosts. Source: CDC

Ticks live and hide in low brush; this location allows them to physically contact a host. One study suggested that leaning against a tree or sitting on an old log was the quickest way to acquire ticks (about 30 seconds) in tick-infested areas. Ticks require a "blood meal" to grow and survive, and they are not very particular upon whom or what they feed. If ticks don't find a host, they may die.

  • Once a tick finds a host (such as a human, a pet dog or cat, a deer, or a rabbit) and finds a suitable site for attachment, the tick begins to burrow with its mouthparts into exposed skin. Tick mouthparts are barbed, which helps to secure them to the host.
  • Often the tick secretes "cementum" to more firmly attach its mouthparts and head to the host. Ticks may secrete or regurgitate small amounts of saliva that contain neurotoxins. These nerve poisons cleverly prevent the host from feeling the pain and irritation of the bite. Consequently, individuals may never notice the tick bite or its feeding. The saliva may contain a blood thinner to make it easier for the tick to get its blood meal. Some people are allergic to these secretions and may have a quick and severe allergic reaction to a tick bite; a few may develop other symptoms listed below.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/19/2014

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