Ticks

Types of ticks

There are hundreds of different kinds of ticks in the world.  Many of them carry bacteria, viruses or other pathogens that cause disease in humans and animals. All ticks might seem the same, little dark specks to be avoided at all costs. This page offers a little more information on some types of ticks that carry Lyme disease,  viruses or other pathogens.

Blacklegged deer tick

Also known as Ixodes scapularis, the blacklegged deer tick is the most common vector for Lyme disease in the American Northeast. Also found in the Upper Midwest, these ticks transmit agents of Lyme, babesiosis, anaplasmosis, Powasson encephalitis and more. They can be amber or chocolate brown, with either coloring of tick having eight legs. The name comes from their host, the white-tailed deer.

Western blacklegged tick

These ticks, known as Ixodes pacificus, transmit Lyme and babesiosis in the western United States and on the Pacific Coast. They are brown with eight legs. One distinctive trait, among adult female Western blacklegged ticks, is that they are flat when unfed and expand when they’ve eaten. Adult males do not expand. These ticks also feed predominantly on lizards resistant to Borrelia infections, which lessens the transmission of Lyme disease in the west.

Castor bean tick

In North Africa, the Middle East and Western, Central and Northern Europe, Ixodes ricinus or castor bean ticks transmit viral and bacterial pathogens. These include the causative agents of Lyme disease and encephalitis borne by ticks.

Also known as the sheep tick, taiga ticks generally feed from March to October. They have a three host life cycle that typically takes 2-3 years to complete. In terms of appearance, they are brown, wide and appear to have pressed indentations on their shell, looking a little like the nail of a human’s big toe.

Taiga tick

These are the most common Lyme disease vectors in China, though they’ve been reported as far away as Sweden. They are brown and black, with eight legs, and have flat bodies.

Types of ticks that don’t carry Lyme disease

There are many other types of ticks aside from four of the main vectors for Lyme disease. These include ticks that can put people at risk of other maladies.

Here are some other types of ticks:

  • Brown dog tick: Found throughout America and can transmit the bacteria that causes spotted fever and tularemia. Also known as the kennel tick or pan-tropical dog tick, it has a maple brown coloring.
  • Lone star tick: This tick has a white star on its back, not unlike the Texas flag and can make a person allergic to meat.
  • Rocky Mountain wood tick: Red and brown, looking a little like mini-lobsters, these ticks have saliva with a neurotoxin that can cause paralysis in humans and pets.
  • Pacific Coast tick: These pink and blue ticks are generally found in California or parts of Mexico and can cause rickets, tularemia and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. In cattle, deer and ponies, their bites can lead to paralysis.
  • Gulf Coast tick: The endemic region for these ticks is primarily in the American Southeast, with sightings through the entire state of Florida and a number of nearby states. These ticks can transmit spotted fever and heartwater.

How to remove a tick and what to do with it

The first temptation a person will have when they find a tick on their body is to immediately crush the life out of the little devil. Avoid doing this, as crushing a tick but not removing it in whole can release the bacteria that causes Lyme disease into the bloodstream.

A better bet is to remove the tick in whole and get it tested as soon as possible for Lyme disease. Follow the steps outlined below to do this.

Finding and removing the tick

The first step for removing a tick from one’s body is locating it. Start by looking at any skin that might have been exposed during a trip into the woods or another endemic area. Ticks love to hide in particular under a person’s armpits, behind the ear or knee, as well as on a person’s neck, ankles, groin area or head. That said, they can be found anywhere on a person’s body.

Once the tick is located, use tweezers and grasp the tick firmly at its head right next to the skin. Pull firmly and steadily until the tick lets go. From there, resist the urge to immediately flush the tick down the toilet or throw it into a fire. For peace of mind, it’s important to get the tick tested for Lyme disease as soon as possible.

To preserve the tick, put it in a plastic baggie with a wet cotton ball. If there’s a nearby lab that tests ticks for Lyme disease and coinfections, bring it there. Otherwise, the tick should be mailed to such a center. The names and addresses of these centers can be found via online searches. The lab, in turn, will say within 72 hours if the tick is infected with Lyme disease. One recommended lab is IGeneX

What to do if the tick is infected

If the tick is infected, it’s not the end of the world. But it’s important to follow a prompt course of action to ensure that whatever bacteria has gotten into the body doesn’t spread far. Immediate treatment can also save a lot of time and money in the future.

Go see a doctor. A good doctor will most likely prescribe antibiotics for at least 30 days, which can be enough time to ensure that any spirochetes are killed. Lyme disease bacteria sometimes can survive a round or two of antibiotics, so it’s important to take medication long enough to kill them all. Two to three months of doxycycline is advisable.

See a doctor right away if a red-ringed, bullseye rash develops, if skin becomes red and irritated, or if flu-like symptoms, joint pain or swollen joints develop. It’s important to note, however, that not everyone develops these symptoms.

If your family doctor turns you away, seek help with a Lyme-literate doctor, or LLMD. Do not take your symptoms lightly. You can kill off the Lyme bacteria within 2-3 months if treated right away. When untreated, other symptoms arise, leading to months and years of long, painful treatment.

Climate change

In a speech at a 2018 conference in San Ramon, California, author Mary Beth Pfeiffer said, “I call Lyme disease the first epidemic of climate change.”

She might be on to something.

Ticks carry Lyme disease from the bloodstreams of animals to humans. Ticks require warm weather and mild winters to survive. Accordingly, as temperatures have soared to record highs in recent years, the areas where ticks can reside have become ever larger.

Originally diagnosed in Old Lyme, Connecticut in 1975, Lyme disease warning areas on the eastern seaboard now stretch into lower Canada. This expansion is consistent and projected to be long-term. The book “Healing Lyme” by Stephen Harrod Buhner notes that the bacteria that causes Lyme, Borellia burgdorferi could expand northward by 200-250 kilometers by the year 2050, or anywhere from 3.5 to 11 kilometers annually.

From old Lyme strongholds such as New England, Northern California and the Southeast, Lyme has also begun to spread into areas of the United States where it wasn’t found before, such as certain parts of Ohio.

“Tick population levels have become so high in some areas that researchers in one study, who dragged a white flannel cloth over a sixty foot… section of ground, found 1,200 ticks attached,” Buhner writes. “In highly endemic areas there may be as many as 60 nymphs (on average) feeding on each mouse or 50 adults on each deer. This is the average. Up to 200 nymphs have been found attached to a mouse, 500 on a single deer.”

There are other ways to quantify the increased risk as well. Buhner notes that each degree Celsisus increase carries an 18 percent increased risk of babesiosis, a livestock disease transmitted by ticks that affects red blood.

Climate change can also make ticks develop faster and live longer, with increases in egg production and population density.

Nearly all the world’s scientists agree that climate change is real, though Congress remains bitterly divided on the issue with President Trump’s administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency attacking the concept.

One thing’s clear: In her speech, Pfeiffer spoke of the veritable army of ticks moving about the globe. As politicians continue to grapple with what to do about climate change, this army will likely only get larger. All that people can do, as the risk for Lyme disease continues to rise as temperatures get ever higher, is be informed and find ways to protect themselves from becoming infected.

What a tick looks like

The first thing to know about ticks is that they’re small, ranging from the size of a sunflower seed to sesame seed to a poppy seed. Some can be as big as pumpking seeds. Anyone with a microscope or magnifying glass, though, can note a few things about ticks. They typically have eight legs, with four on each side of their body. They’re often a dark color such as brown or black. In terms of shape, they are oval.

Where you get ticks

Ticks are occupying increasingly broader regions of the world, including much of the United States, Europe and China. In these places and elsewhere, ticks like dark, hidden places such as leave piles, tall grass, the woods and rocks. When people walk through these areas, ticks can attach themselves to clothing or bare skin. Be aware where you sit, too.

What clothing to wear

The best kind of clothing to wear when visiting areas endemic for ticks protects against them reaching the body. This generally means jeans or light-colored pants and long sleeves are advisable. Jeans can be worn tucked into socks. Light clothing is good, as ticks can easily be spotted on it. It’s important to protect your feet, since nymph ticks are often on the ground.  While in the field, check yourself time to time for ticks.

How ticks get Lyme disease

Ticks act as a vector for Lyme disease between animals, deer, mice and humans. What this means is that ticks bite infected animals with Lyme disease, such as mouse or other small rodent.  The spirochetes that cause Lyme disease get into the bloodstream of ticks. Ticks then bite humans and other animamals infecting them with the spirochetes.

Nymphs

Ticks have four life stages: egg, larva, nymph and adult . Nymphs represent the third lifestage for ticks, after the larva and before the adult stage.

In each stage after hatching, they suck blood from animals like mice, squirrels, birds and deer. Then they drop off, enter a dormant period and molt to enter the next stage. Nymphs, or immature ticks, are the size of poppy seeds. Nymphs can bite and fall off without a person even knowing they’ve been bitten and infected.

If a tick is crawling on you

There is little to no risk of becoming ill if the tick has not yet attached itself. Only ticks that are attached and feeding can transmit a disease.  As long as it is handled properly, there is little to no risk of becoming ill if the tick has not yet attached itself.

Remember, not all ticks carry Lyme disease. But you need to take it seriously if you find a tick inbeded in you. Two to three months of antibiotics — such as 100 mg of doxycycline twice a day — can be advisable after a tick removal, just to be sure the Borellia (the bacteria that causes Lyme disease) would not survive in the body.

It can take months, even years, to feel better once misdiagnosed or overlooked and that includes expensive, painful treatment and a physical and mental toll. So take first precautions seriously. You will save yourself lots of  time and money.