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The following consumer information is provided by Sandra Woods, D.V.M.,
Division of Drugs for Non-Food Animals, Center for Veterinary Medicine


Among the many tick-borne diseases which are transmitted to man and animals, three stand out as most prevalent. Each of these diseases occurs seasonally in the United States--most incidences occurring in summer and fall. People and animals that spend a lot of time outside in wooded areas are most likely to be affected.

The following symptoms for each disease are common to humans and animals with minor exceptions. For example, a rash is not easily found in animals.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

This disease is caused by Rickettsia rickettsii, a microorganism which is usually transmitted by Ixodidae (hard ticks). The species most commonly involved are Dermacentor andersoni (wood tick), Dermacentor variabilis (dog tick), and Amblyomma americanum (Lone-Star tick of the southern United States, particularly Texas and Louisiana).

Man, dogs and cats, farm animals, and wildlife species are affected. People should examine themselves and their pets for ticks after each trip outside. The onset of symptoms may be abrupt. Common symptoms are fever, chills, severe headaches, muscle pains, and a rash.

The mortality rate for Rocky Mountain spotted fever is less than 10 percent if an antibiotic is started promptly. Some patients may require supportive therapies, such as intravenous fluids, steroids, and nasogastric feedings. Improvement should be rapid (36 to 48 hours). The exact treatment should be determined by the animal's veterinarian or, in the case of a human, a personal physician.

Tick Paralysis

This disease is most commonly caused by female hard ticks of the Dermacentor species. Both man and animal may be affected; the animals most affected are dogs, cattle, and sheep.

A flacid paralysis progresses from the back to the front of the affected animal and is due to a toxin injected when the ticks feed. Paralysis is most likely to occur from prolonged feeding and bites located along the spine, neck, or head in people as well as animals.

Symptoms include anorexia, lethargy, muscle weakness, lack of coordination, and nystagmus (involuntary, rapid movement of the eyeball).

Bite sites should be cleansed with soap and water. If bare hands are used to remove the tick, care must be taken to avoid squeezing as this may inject more toxin. Hands should be washed immediately after disposing of the tick. If the bite wounds are inflamed or look infected, an antibiotic and steroid ointment can be applied. It's a good idea to consult a veterinarian on the proper way to remove and dispose of ticks on pets. Never use a lit cigarette or matches to disengage the tick because of the obvious danger of a serious burn to the animal.

If respiratory or cardiac arrest has not occurred, removal of the tick(s) usually leads to rapid and complete recovery.

Lyme Disease

This disease, named after the small town of Lyme, Connecticut where a group of people were initially affected in 1975, is the most prevalent disease transmitted by ticks in the U.S. It is caused by a spirochete called Borrelia burgdorferi and has been reported in wildlife (moose, elk, and deer), cattle and horses, dogs and cats, and man. Cases have been diagnosed in most States with a high incidence along the Eastern seaboard, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.

The ticks that transmit this disease are very small, the size of sesame seeds as adults, and in approximately 30 percent of the confirmed cases, no tick bites can be documented.

Symptoms include a bull's-eye rash in about 70 percent of human patients, malaise, fatigue, joint pains, neurological signs, cardiac abnormalities, and arthritis. Patients develop antibody titers to the disease, but a single test is difficult to interpret. Rising titers with clinical signs indicate infection and should be treated with systemic antibiotics for 10 days or longer.

Both the veterinarian and family physician should be notified if either a member of the family or a pet develops symptoms after visiting an area where ticks may live. Most patients recover if they receive prompt treatment. A small percentage of cases require prolonged treatment for recovery, or fail to respond.

In conclusion, the symptoms of these three tick-borne diseases can be easily confused; therefore, both veterinarians and physicians need to carefully investigate all patients with vague flu-like symptoms. With a few simple precautions, people and pets should be able to enjoy outside activities and be protected against tick-borne diseases.


1. Use a good tick repellent before participating in outside activities.
2. If possible, avoid areas with heavy brush, low-hanging tree limbs or long grass.
3. After returning home, remove all clothing worn outside and launder in hot water and soap.
4. Examine yourself carefully after all outside activities.
5. Treat your home environment (inside and outside) at regular intervals during the tick season to reduce the tick population.
Total elimination of ticks is unlikely due to natural reservoirs such as mice, birds, deer, and other wildlife.
6. Cut the grass around your house and remove brush and low tree limbs to decrease tick habitat and wildlife use of your property.


1. Have your veterinarian set up your tick control plan.
2. Use flea and tick sprays as directed to avoid overdosing.
3. Rotate flea products based on active ingredients rather than brand names to prevent resistance.
4. Examine pets for ticks after each outing and remove ticks as directed by your veterinarian.

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