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Tick-Borne Illness: Watch For Symptoms, Seek Care Promptly

November 03, 2017

It's tick season, and the May issue of Mayo Clinic Health Letter covers signs and symptoms associated with tick-related diseases.

Although most tick bites are harmless, ticks can pass on infectious organisms that cause serious illnesses. As a general rule, it's important to seek prompt medical attention when symptoms occur after a tick bite. Symptoms may include rash, fever, muscle aches, joint pain, swollen lymph nodes or flulike symptoms.

Lyme disease: This illness is transmitted by deer ticks, which are brown and smaller than wood ticks. They are found throughout the United States, especially on the East and West coasts and in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Only a minority of deer ticks carry the infectious agent, but the longer the tick is attached to the skin, the greater the risk of infection.

Signs of infection may appear several days to a few weeks after the bite. A red, circular-shaped rash may develop around the bite, followed by flulike symptoms.

When the infection is caught early, treatment is oral antibiotics. Without treatment, Lyme disease can lead to arthritis, facial paralysis (Bell's palsy), heart problems and neurological symptoms.

Rocky Mountain spotted fever: This illness is transmitted by several types of ticks, including the wood tick and American dog tick. The illness occurs in patients throughout the country but is most common in the eastern United States.

Flulike symptoms may be the first indicator of the illness. During the first week, a red rash may appear on the wrist and ankles and eventually spread up the arms and legs to the chest. When treated promptly with antibiotics, mild cases of the infection typically cause few problems. Untreated, Rocky Mountain spotted fever may cause heart, lung or kidney failure or encephalitis, a brain infection that can lead to coma.

Mayo Clinic Health Letter is an eight-page monthly newsletter of reliable, accurate and practical information on today's health and medical news.

Mayo Clinic