The NJ Department of Health on Communicable Disease Service informs us that tick-borne diseases are bacterial illnesses that spread to humans through infected ticks. The most common tick-borne diseases in NJ are: Lyme Disease, Ehrlichiosis, Anaplasmosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Babesios. (NJ Department of Health Tick Brochure)
Tick-borne diseases are not spread between two people, but rather rely on ticks for transmission. Ticks become infected by micro-organisms (bacteria or protozoan parasites) when feeding on small infected mammals (e.g. mice and voles). Different tick-borne diseases are caused by different micro-organisms and it is possible to be infected with more than one tick-borne disease at the same time.
The skin. Since they do not digest solids, they leak saliva into the bite to dissolve tissues and suck up this mixture. The saliva contains enough bacteria that ticks are amonst the most potent disease carriers in the world! A female tick can suck up a 100 times its own body weight in blood. The female will leave several hundred eggs before she dies. Ticks lay eggs in leaf litter and pine needles and femals ticks lay approximately 2,000 to 3,000 eggs in the spring!
The early signs of tick-borne diseases generally include:
Most tick-borne diseases are diagnosed through blood tests and by discussing symptoms with a healthcare provider.
Tick-borne diseases caused by bacteria (Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, anaplasmosis, and Rocky Mt. spotted fever) can be treated with antibiotics. Babesiosis is caused by a parasite similar to malaria, and is treated with antiprotozoal drugs. It is important to watch for symptoms and talk to your healthcare provider if you’ve been bitten by a tick. Early treatment can be very effective.
Lyme disease in our dogs is equally dangerous and can be fatal. Lyme disease is one of the most common tick-transmitted diseases in the world but only causes symptoms in 5-10% of affected dogs. It is caused by a spirochete (bacteria) species of the Borrelia burgdorferi group. When infection leads to disease in dogs, the dominant clinical feature is recurrent lameness due to inflammation of the joints. There may also be a lack of appetite and depression. More serious complications include damage to the kidneys, and rarely, heart or nervous system disease.
Unfortunately, antibiotic treatment does not always completely eliminate infection with Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria. Symptoms may resolve but then return at a later date, and the development of kidney disease in the future is always a worry.
Don't be fooled, not everyone gets the telltale "bullseye" rash. Lyme disease is often referred to as the great imitator because so many of its symptoms resemble those of other diseases. Without a telltale skin rash, it can be very hard to diagnose Lyme disease. Many people never recall being bitten.
Pictured is a female Lone Star tick, found in NJ, and the primary vector for Ehrlichiosis. Typical symptoms include: fever, headache, fatigue, and muscle aches. Usually, these symptoms occur within 1-2 weeks following a tick bite.
People can get Anaplasmosis through the bite of a blacklegged tick (deer tick) that live on the ground in areas that are wooded or with lots of brush. The ticks search for hosts at or near ground level and grab onto a person or animal as they walk by.
Ticks such as the dog tick, lone star tick and the wood tick, can all transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever. The infection is caused by the bacterium Rickettsia rickettsii, carried by the ticks. The disease typically starts as a rash on the extremities, gradually spreading to the body's core. Signs that you may have Rocky Mountain spotted fever are vague: headaches, fever, nausea, muscle pain, but if you have the tell-tale rash, see your doctor immediately.
Babesiosis is a rare, malaria-like infection of the blood caused by a parasite that lives in some ticks. Deer ticks typically carry the parasite that causes this illness.