A Guide to Common Tick-Borne Illnesses

February 21, 2024

When it comes to outdoor adventures, ticks, though tiny, can play a significant yet concerning role. As vectors of various diseases, understanding their impact is crucial for anyone who loves to walk, hike, or camp outside, especially near wooded areas. 

In this comprehensive guide, follow along as we explore how ticks transmit diseases, highlight common tick-borne illnesses, and share valuable tips for both protection and when to seek medical attention. 

How Ticks Transmit Diseases

Ticks aren’t just ordinary bugs; they are carriers of bacteria, viruses, and parasites. These arachnids can become infected by feeding on infected animals and then transmit these pathogens to humans and other animals when they bite. 

This makes ticks effective vectors, or “organisms that transmit pathogens from one host to another,” for a wide range of diseases, including Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and several others. Generally, if a tick is carrying pathogens, these can be passed into the host's bloodstream during the feeding process, which poses significant health risks to humans and animals alike.

Common Tick-Borne Illnesses

Lyme Disease

The most prevalent tick-borne illness in the United States, Lyme Disease, is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. Its hallmark sign is a "bull's-eye" rash, though not everyone develops this symptom. 

If untreated, Lyme Disease can affect the joints, heart, and nervous system, causing a range of symptoms from mild to severe. That’s why early detection and treatment is crucial, and why seeing a Lyme Specialist is an important step for anyone who suspects they’ve been bitten by a black-legged tick.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF)

RMSF is a serious illness that can become life-threatening if not treated in the first few days. Symptoms include fever, headache, abdominal pain, vomiting, and muscle pain. 

A rash often develops a few days after the fever begins, starting as small, flat, pink, non-itchy spots on the wrists, forearms, and ankles, then spreading to the trunk and sometimes including the palms and soles. However, not everyone with RMSF will develop a rash, making early diagnosis based on symptoms and potential tick exposure crucial.


This disease is transmitted by tick bites, leading to fever, headache, chills, and muscle aches. Anaplasmosis is particularly concerning because it can be life-threatening if not treated promptly, especially in people with weakened immune systems. If you suspect you've been exposed to ticks and are experiencing these symptoms, it's crucial to seek medical attention immediately.


Similar to anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis presents with fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, and sometimes a rash. It requires prompt treatment with antibiotics to prevent severe complications and is especially dangerous for individuals with weakened immune systems, older adults, and those with existing health conditions. 


Unlike the bacterial infections mentioned above, babesiosis is caused by microscopic parasites that infect red blood cells. It can range from asymptomatic to severe, with symptoms like fever, chills, sweats, weakness, and hemolytic anemia. 

If you suspect you've been exposed to ticks in an area where babesiosis is common, especially in the Northeastern and upper Midwestern United States, and experience these symptoms, it's important to seek medical care as soon as possible. 

Tick-Borne Relapsing Fever (TBRF)

Finally, TBRF is characterized by recurring episodes of fever, headache, muscle and joint aches, and nausea. It’s caused by certain species of bacteria from the genus Borrelia, transmitted by soft ticks, and differs from Lyme disease, which is caused by bacteria of the same genus but transmitted by hard ticks. Tick-Borne Relapsing Fever (TBRF) occurs primarily in the western United States and is often associated with staying in rustic cabins in areas where infected rodents and their ticks are present.

How to Protect Yourself From Tick-Borne Illness

When it comes to Tick-Borne Disease, prevention is simpler than seeking a cure. That’s why it’s important to always take the necessary precautions to protect yourself when you’re in areas where ticks are known to inhabit. Follow these tips whenever you’re in danger of coming into contact with ticks:

Avoid areas where ticks are known to inhabit

This applies to areas where thick foliage, grass, and woodland are present. When you’re out camping, hunting, gardening, carrying out forestry activities, or simply just enjoying a walk, always try to keep indoors or on paths that are free from vegetation. It can also be smart to walk in the center of paths to minimize contact with plants and trees.

Wear protective clothing

Whether you’re in known tick territory or not, it’s always best to dress smart when you’re out in open areas. Protect your skin from spine-piercing bugs by covering it up with long-sleeved tops, long trousers, thick socks, and close-toed shoes.

Pro tip: Treat clothing and gear with products containing 0.5% permethrin as this has been proven to repel both ticks and other bugs.

Apply tick repellent

There are plenty of chemical repellents on the market that are designed to deter ticks from climbing up your clothing. Look for DEET-based sprays as these seem to be the most effective in deterring ticks.

Do a regular tick check

After spending an extended amount of time in tick territory, make sure to do a thorough check of your entire body and clothing. Ticks are small and hard to spot, which is why it’s vital to check all your exposed skin carefully. Check your neck, hairline, armpits, groin, and feet – these are areas where ticks tend to attach themselves.

If you do find a tick embedded in your skin, remove it as soon as you notice it. Ticks need to be attached to you for between 24 and 48 hours in order to transmit their diseases, so the sooner you remove them the better your chances of avoiding infection.

What should I do if I'm bitten by a tick?

If you are bitten by a tick, it is important to remove it as soon as possible. Use tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible and pull straight upwards with steady pressure. Avoid twisting or jerking the tick, as this can cause the mouthparts to break off and remain in the skin. After removing the tick, clean the area with soap and water. Then monitor the site of the bite for any signs of an infection or allergic reaction, such as redness, swelling, or difficulty breathing. If you experience these symptoms, seek medical attention immediately. 

When to Seek Medical Attention

If you've been bitten by a tick or exhibit symptoms of a tick-borne illness, such as fever/chills, aches and pains, and specific symptoms like the "bull's-eye" rash of Lyme Disease, it's crucial to seek medical attention as soon as possible. Early intervention can prevent the progression of these diseases into more serious health issues.

Get Comprehensive Treatment At Sierra Integrative Medical Center

When it comes down to it, it’s important to remember that ticks, though small, can carry significant health risks. Taking the right precautions can go a long way in preventing tick bites and possible infections, but sometimes accidents happen. If you do find a tick on you, it’s important to carefully remove it as soon as possible and monitor for any potential symptoms.

If you come down with any concerning symptoms after a tick bite, it’s always best to consult with a healthcare professional. And if you experience lingering symptoms, such as those associated with chronic Lyme Disease or another persistent tick-borne illness, be sure to consult with an experienced, knowledgeable Lyme Disease doctor to get the treatment you need. 

At Sierra Integrative Medical Center, we're experts in providing comprehensive treatments for tick-borne illnesses. Whether you're struggling with Lyme Disease, co-infections, or other tick-borne illnesses, our team of practitioners can help you get the diagnosis and treatment you need to start feeling better today. 

Contact our team today to learn more about our integrative treatment programs or to schedule a consultation!