Doctor's Notes on Ticks
Ticks are bloodsucking arthropods classified as either hard or soft ticks with over 800 species; hard ticks have a hard plate or scutum on their back while soft ticks do not; both types attach to the skin of humans or other animals by their mouth parts to get blood. Hard ticks may stay attached for days while soft ticks may attach for only hours. The first sign or symptom is seeing a tick (range from small pinpoint-size to about 10 mm and are mainly brownish or grayish in color) attached to your skin or on your clothing. Generally, tick bites are usually painless (except for some soft ticks) but over time, other signs and symptoms develop. The bite site may cause local muscle weakness or even local paralysis. After ticks drop off, bite areas may develop redness or a rash with itching and burning. In addition, soft tick bites may cause localized intense pain. Late signs and symptoms may include developing allergic reactions to red meats or the development of a bite infection with red streaks, swelling and swollen lymph nodes in areas adjacent to the tick bite.
Other signs and symptoms of a tick bite are related to the tick bite as a vector for other pathogens that cause disease. There are at least 14 different diseases transmitted by different tick bites. Various ticks may produce noticeable signs and symptoms, usually after the tick has detached itself. For example, Lyme disease (caused by Borrelia species of bacteria) can produce bull’s-eye target – shaped rashes while Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (caused by R. rickettsii) can produce a spotty skin rash with a fever and neck stiffness.
The cause of tick bites is the tick needing a blood meal for survival. Secondary symptoms and signs are caused by pathogenic organisms transmitted to humans during the tick bite.
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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.