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Five Common Diseases Spread by Ticks

Updated: Mar 17, 2020

Apr 28, 2018

Five Common Diseases spread by Ticks (that effect you and your pet)

These diseases are the more commonly found diseases carried by ticks that you may encounter. Unfortunately, many of the symptoms can be vague. Some diseases have remarkable tell-tale signs, like the bullseye rash associated with Lyme disease, but don’t always occur. If you or your pet have recently had a tick encounter AND you have these symptoms it may be worth your while to investigate with your doctor or veterinarian.

Ticks are second only to mosquitoes world-wide, in their ability to carry and spread disease. Being informed about how to avoid ticks, remove them promptly and safely, and what to watch for after a tick encounter is one of the best defenses. We hope this provides you with the tools to defend yourself, your family and your pets against ticks.

Important Points to Remember: • Ticks are small and hard to find, prevention is key. • Memorial Animal Hospital strongly recommends using preventatives on your dog and cat, that kill ticks before they can spread disease. • Cats are not known to get Lyme Disease but they are susceptible to other diseases carried by ticks. • To remove a tick, use a fine-point tweezer and pull straight up, this is the best method. Save the tick for ID purposes. • A hungry tick is a questing tick. They live in the woods and lurk on tall grasses or in shrubby areas near paths that people and animals use. • Check your body and your pets after being outside in areas that ticks prefer. • There is a Lyme vaccine available for your dog! • We see increased numbers of Lyme and Ehrlichiosis diagnosed at this hospital every year. This is a real concern, especially since it is preventable. • Identifying a tick can certainly help with initial concerns of disease. Most ticks specifically transmit certain diseases, and that can help when discussing symptoms and treatment options for a pet or human.

*The following information has been supplied by a variety of sources for both people and pets:

*Ehrlichiosis (er-li-kē-ˈō-sis) was first recognized as a disease in the United States in the late 1980’s in people, but did not become a reportable disease until 1999. Although cases of ehrlichiosis can occur during any month of the year, the majority of cases reported to the CDC typically occurs in the months of June and July. This period is the season for increased numbers of adult and nymphal ticks, which are the primary life stages of ticks that bite humans and if infected can transmit this disease. The Brown Dog, Lone Star and Blacklegged tick can all carry Ehrlichiosis.

Symptoms for people usually occur within 1 to 3 weeks after exposure and can range from mild to severe. Common symptoms include fever, muscle pain, headache and chills. Occasionally, symptoms may include nausea/vomiting, a sharp drop in weight, mental confusion, cough and skin rash

In dogs, the disease has 3 distinct phases. During the initial phase of infection, which generally lasts 1 to 3 weeks, the signs are nonspecific and include fever, loss of appetite, weight loss, depression and swollen lymph nodes. If the disease is not detected or treated during the initial phase, the dog may again appear normal. Chronic infection can develop, however, and can be life-threatening. Signs of severe ehrlichiosis include dramatic weight loss and loss of muscle tone, swollen lymph nodes, high fever, and bleeding.

Ehrlichia canis is an infection of the white blood cells. This affects the bone marrow function, including the production of white blood cells. Ehrlichia ewingi is an infection of blood cells that leads to joint pain and lameness, loss of energy and lack of appetite. Pets are not always symptomatic.

*Lyme Disease is specifically caused by the Borrelia burgdorferi bacterium (sounds like something the chef from Muppets would say). It is transmitted through the bite of an infected tick, primarily the Ixodes scapularis or Deer tick in our area and can affect many species. In most cases, the tick must be attached for 36 to 48 hours or more before the Lyme disease bacterium can be transmitted. Ticks do not cause Lyme disease, they merely transmit the bacteria that cause it.

In people early signs and symptoms (3 to 30 days after tick bite) include: fever, chills, headache, fatigue, muscle ache, and swollen lymph nodes. You may also see the Erythema migrans (EM) rash, often known as the infamous bulls-eye rash.

If not caught early, symptoms can progress causing severe headache, chronic joint aches particularly of the knees and other large joints, facial paralysis, inflammation of the spinal cord and brain, nerve pain, episodes of dizziness, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, and problems with short-term memory.

Laboratories are currently working on a Lyme vaccine for people. They began working with the canine Lyme vaccine for a workable vaccine for humans. No time frame is available for when this may be accomplished.

Dogs infected with Lyme disease may not show signs for 2-5 months, at which time they usually develop fever, loss of appetite and lameness. It can be difficult to distinguish Lyme disease from anaplasmosis because the signs of disease are very similar, and they occur in essentially the same areas of the country. A 4Dx test can be done at the veterinarian office to help determine the presence of disease after a tick exposure.

*Anaplasmosis (a-nə-ˌplaz-ˈmō-səs) is a disease caused by the bacterium Anaplasma phagocytophilum, transmitted by an infected tick. The Blacklegged tick (Deer tick) (Ixodes scapularis) is the vector of A. phagocytophilum in the northeast and upper midwestern United States. The Western Blacklegged tick (Ixodes pacificus) is the primary vector in Northern California.

Nymphal and adult ticks are most frequently associated with transmission of anaplasmosis. In people, typical symptoms include: fever, headache, chills, and muscle aches. generally appearing 5-21 days after a bite from an infected tick, and may be confused with flu symptoms. While some people may only experience mild symptoms, and recover without medical attention, elderly or immunocompromised people may develop a more severe illness.

In dogs, symptoms very similar to Lyme disease occur; lethargy and anorexia were the most common initial complaints, fever was the most common clinical sign, and thrombocytopenia (a persistent decrease in the number of platelets in the blood that is often associated with hemorrhagic conditions) was the most common sign and symptom directly observed by a doctor and confirmed by lab results. Usually, these symptoms occur within 1-2 weeks of a tick bite.

Anaplasmosis is initially diagnosed based on symptoms and clinical presentation, and later confirmed by specialized laboratory tests. Currently, the first line of treatment for people and dogs is an antibiotic. Anaplasma phagocytophilum clinical signs include not wanting to move, lethargy, fever, anorexia, and muscle pain. Anaplasma platys has similar symptoms.

*Babesiosis (bə-ˌbē-zē-ˈō-səs) is caused by microscopic parasites that infect red blood cells and are spread by certain ticks. In the United States, tickborne transmission occurs mainly in parts of the Northeast and upper Midwest and usually peaks during the warm months.

Although many people who are infected with Babesia do not have symptoms, for those who do, effective treatment is available. Babesiosis is preventable, if simple steps are taken to reduce exposure to ticks.

Babesia microti is transmitted by the bite of an infected Brown Dog tick, R sanguineus, or Deer tick Ixodes scapularis —typically, by the nymph stage of the tick, which is about the size of a poppy seed. The use of prevention measures is particularly important for people at increased risk for severe babesiosis (for example, people who do not have a spleen).

Babesiosis in dogs can also be difficult to diagnose because of the variety of signs that may be observed. Infected dogs may appear normal, or they might suddenly go into shock from rapid destruction of their blood cells – these dogs show signs of fever, weakness, depression, swollen lymph nodes and very pale gums. If possible, areas infested with ticks should be avoided, especially during warm months. If such areas cannot be avoided, check yourself daily for ticks. The tiny I. scapularis ticks that spread B. microti usually must stay attached for 36-48 hours to be able to transmit the parasite. Daily tick checks can prevent disease transmission.

*Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) is caused by Rickettsia rickettsii. Early signs and symptoms are not specific to RMSF (including fever and headache). However, the disease can rapidly progress to a serious and life-threatening illness. Symptoms of RMSF usually appear within 3 to 14 days after the bite of an infected tick, with moderate to high fever (which may last for 2 to 3 weeks), severe headache, fatigue, muscle aches, chills, stomach pain, nausea and skin rash. The rash looks like blood spots or heavy freckles, explaining the “spotted fever” part of the name. While almost all people with RMSF will develop a rash, it often does not appear early in illness, which can make RMSF difficult to diagnose.

Currently there are no in-house diagnostic tests available for RMSF in dogs. The Brown Dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus) is known to carry and transmit R rickettsia, especially in Arizona, and in other very dry climates. In our area the American Dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis) is a known carrier for RMSF and of course Lone Star ticks (Amblyomma americanum). Initial symptoms can include high fever, weight loss, difficulty breathing, coughing, painful joints, vomiting, diarrhea, enlarged lymph nodes and swelling of the face or extremities. When the disease progresses a persistent decrease in the number of platelets in the blood and neurologic manifestations can occur.

• A good tick preventative needs to kill ticks before ticks have a chance to transfer disease. • Don’t forget to put on your tick and flea preventative for dogs and cats every month. • Ticks are active even in cool temperatures. • See your health care provider if you or your pet become ill after having been bitten by a tick. • At Memorial Animal Hospital we use the 4Dx snap test. It is a blood test that is run in the hospital and provides results for dogs in 8 minutes. The test screens for four diseases; Heartworm, Lyme, Ehrlichiosis, and Anaplasmosis. Heartworm is carried by mosquitoes and the remaining are all carried by ticks. • We hope you now realize how important prevention is!

*sources University of Rhode Island Tick Encounter Resource Center Center for Disease Control IDEXX laboratories Merck Veterinary Manual

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