What are ticks, what diseases do ticks spread, and should you be worried? How to deal with ticks without fear.
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Disclosure: I am not a doctor. I am not a pest control specialist. Please consult with the necessary professionals for more information on any of these topics. My goal is to give you an overall look at tick bite prevention and treatment using research I did in June 2017… new research and information is always coming out so please keep this in mind.
I grew up dealing with ticks in southern New Hampshire in the 1980s and 1990s (and beyond). We had a big suburban backyard, but my brother and I spent a lot of hours in the woods. We also had a dog who would come in with ticks.
We didn’t get the daily checks by our parents that they recommend doing now, but you tend to find them… particularly the big ones… and when you do, you want to remove them safely. And boy have the rules changed over time.
First- Don’t Panic!
The one thing I want to stress is that you need to be able to deal with ticks without panic and fear. For one, many of us are removing ticks from children and pets. Being in crisis mode doesn’t help calm them or help get the tick off quickly and efficiently. I’ve met too many people who freak out when dealing with ticks and you really can’t. You need a steady hand to remove them.
But more importantly, we need to remember that while ticks can spread illnesses such as Lyme, most tick bites are not going to do any lasting damage.
And mosquitoes still win the award for the most dangerous critters in the world. Mosquitoes spread Malaria, Zika, Dengue Fever, Yellow Fever, and Encephalitis. We have learned to effectively deal with them without going into crisis mode every time we see one… it’s a lot easier to prevent and treat bites if we problem solve instead of living in fear.
And staying indoors 24/7 isn’t a perfect tick-proof… or particularly healthy… approach to dealing with ticks either. Sunshine, exercise, and being outdoors is good for you. Go outside. Learn to prevent and treat tick and mosquito bites.
What are Ticks?
Ticks are a type of arachnid (spider). They have eight legs. They are ectoparasites. This means that they need a host’s blood to survive and develop once they hatch from eggs. Unfortunately, they can still live quite some time without blood.
Scientists believe ticks have existed for 90 million years. There are hard ticks and soft ticks, and they can be different sizes.
Ticks usually feed on mammals (that’s us, y’all), birds, and sometimes reptiles and amphibians. They get on leaves and branches, attaching to a living creature when it brushes the object they’re on. They don’t fly, drop, or jump onto you. I find this comforting.
What is Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease is not spread by all ticks. It’s primarily spread by Deer Ticks and black legged ticks.
Usually the disease is spread while the tick is in its nymphal stage of growth. Tick bites don’t hurt and the ticks at that stage are the size of a poppy seed. The longer the tick stays attached, the more likely you are to have Lyme transmitted to you… which, you might guess, is a huge problem when these ticks are particularly difficult to see.
Pregnant women who are infected can spread the disease to their unborn children.
The disease is found on every continent except Antarctica, but some areas have higher incidence rates than others.
Lyme Disease is often misdiagnosed. The bulls-eye rash is cited as a common symptom, but it doesn’t occur in every case. Sometimes another type of rash will develop or no rash at all. From what I understand, the bulls-eye, when it develops, isn’t necessarily right where the tick attached. The rash can be on other parts of your body.
Flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, muscle aches, etc. can be signs of Lyme Disease, as can facial drooping (Bells Palsy). The disease can spread to any part of the body and any body system. Some vague symptoms that have a lot of overlap with other illnesses include poor sleep, cognitive impairment, muscle pain and mood problems. This means the symptoms can be pretty broad and it’s easy to be misdiagnosed.
You can request to be tested for Lyme Disease. The blood test looks for the antibodies our body produces to fight the disease. This means that the test is not 100% accurate, depending on how soon the test is done after the tick bite. It can take 4-6 weeks for the antibodies to build up enough to trigger a positive result for the test.
Lyme can successfully be treated with oral antibiotics in most cases. Some people talk about “Chronic Lyme Disease” which appears to be a controversial diagnosis, but you can read more about that from the NIH article on Chronic Lyme. People who have lingering symptoms are diagnosed with Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome.
Due to the non invasive nature of the test, I think it’s a good test to request if you have any odd symptoms and can’t get a diagnosis. I was diagnosed with Lyme Disease many years ago and I was lucky enough to have an educated doctor who knew to test for it. Over time, I’ve noticed doctors have become more educated about Lyme Disease and more apt to add it to the first tests they run when patients come in with symptoms that might match.
Think you could have Lyme Disease? Take this online quiz from LymeDisease.org and go see your doctor for a proper diagnosis. It’s good to be tested for Lyme Disease, particularly if you’re at high risk.
Source: LymeDisease.org for more information
Other Diseases Spread by Ticks
Ticks can spread a number of other diseases, including Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Tularemia, Ehrlichiosis, Relapsing fever, Colorado tick fever, and Babesiosis. Check out this list of diseases from the CDC about Tick Borne Diseases of the United States.
But remember… most tick bites do not spread disease, just like most mosquito bites don’t carry Zika.
When they spread something, it can be dangerous so it’s important to check for ticks and remove them as soon as possible if you find them. Prevention is key. And when you have a tick bite, it’s worth recording the incident in some way so if you get symptoms in a week or two then you can pass that information onto your doctor.
What is Tick Paralysis?
Tick paralysis is caused by a neurotoxin that some ticks produce and inject while they feed. Symptoms of tick paralysis occur within 2-7 days of a tick attaching. Symptoms involve paralysis that starts in the legs and extends to other body parts over time, and can lead to respiratory failure and death if not treated.
Human cases are rare and usually occur in children under 10 years old. It’s more commonly seen in animals.
I’d assume smaller animals are more likely to get this, that individuals with compromised immune systems are more likely to get this, and those with many ticks attached will develop it more severely/quickly, but I didn’t see this topic addressed. This is just based on reasoning that larger doses of a toxin or a smaller body would be effected by the toxin more quickly.
Removing the tick tends to resolve the symptoms.
Other Posts about Ticks
This post got out of hand for length so I decided to split the post up into separate posts to make it easier to find what you want.
- Preventing Ticks in Your Yard: How Landscaping, Wildlife, and Pets Play Into Lyme Disease Prevention
- Preventing and Removing Ticks
Get the Free Tick Bite Tracking Form
I made a quick and easy tick bite tracking form so you can make sure to keep notes on any ticks you find on your family. You want to keep an eye out for symptoms of tick-borne diseases for a couple of weeks after a bite.
Download it free below (Tick-Removal-Tracker-1):
It looks like this if you want to make your own.
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