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House Calls: Tick fever can be serious

It’s that time of year again where we have to worry about ticks. This increases the chance of tick fever if bitten.

Tick fever is a bacterial infection transmitted by ticks to humans. It is caused by a bacteria in the Rickettsia family. When ticks bite humans they transmit this bacteria through their saliva.

There are many forms of tick fever, such as Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Lyme’s disease, Ehrlichiosis and, most recently publicized, Heartland virus.

Ehrichiosis is the most common tick fever in our area. It was first discovered at Ft. Chaffee affecting military personnel who had been bitten by the deer tick. Symptoms of tick fever are frequently described as feeling like you have the flu in the summer. Fever, headaches, body aches, and rash are all symptoms of tick fever. Symptoms can develop as late as five to seven days after the tick bite has occurred.

The rash found in Lyme’s disease is described as looking like a target with a bull’s eyes. Some tick bites may develop a black mark at the location of the bite called an eschar. Eschars usually develop when other symptoms develop. Complications of tick fever include encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), pneumonia and damage to the heart and brain. Death and serious complications are uncommon.

Tick fever is diagnosed by your doctor asking you a series of questions and doing an exam. Lab work may be performed to decide if you have tick fever. Many times the lab will be normal and not show up in the lab until a few weeks after exposure, so your doctor may not decide to do lab on you.

If strong clinical suspicion is present, treatment will usually occur. Your doctor may prescribe you an antibiotic such as Doxycycline to shorten the course of the illness or reduce severity of symptoms.

Avoidance of tick fever is done by reducing your exposure to ticks. This can sometimes be very difficult. Wearing long pants or shirts when outdoors can be helpful. Wearing repellant is also advised if your exposure is high. Many of the symptoms mentioned above are very common and may be present in other illnesses. However, if these symptoms are associated with a recent tick bite, the illness should be further investigated by your doctor.

Many of you may have recently seen the newspaper or television concerning the Heartland virus. The Heartland virus was first discovered in Missouri and has recently been found in Tennessee and Oklahoma. There is no treatment for this form of tick fever. It is diagnosed by eliminating other causes of illnesses. Some antibodies are produced in the blood which can be picked up by testing. These tests are not routinely performed by most labs.

The Heartland virus is caused from bites of the Lone Star tick. It is very similar to the other forms of tick fever as far as symptoms. Unfortunately, this virus does not respond to Doxycycline. It can also be transmitted through mosquitos and sand flies. There have been two deaths from this form of tick fever this year.

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