Not every tick bite results in illness. But when you do get sick after getting a tick bite, it's important to see a doctor, for it could escalate quickly.
There are a few types of tick-borne illnesses seen in Oklahoma.
Lyme disease is well known as a tick-borne illness, but it's not common in the state. Since 1999, the state Health Department has reported fewer than eight cases of Lyme disease each year.
Rocky Mountain spotted fever, however, is more common, and Oklahoma reports one of the highest rates of spotted fever cases in the United States. Rocky Mountain spotted fever is a tick-borne disease caused by the bacterium Rickettsia rickettsii. About 80 percent of people who have Rocky Mountain spotted fever will develop a rash. However, some patients might never develop a rash, and a person might have other symptoms before the rash develops.
These symptoms include fever, headache, abdominal pain, vomiting and muscle pain. Rocky Mountain spotted fever can be severe or even deadly if not treated in the first few days of symptoms.
Ehrlichiosis is the general name used to describe several bacterial diseases that are spread to a person through the bite of an infected tick. In 2010, Oklahoma saw 107 cases of ehrlichiosis. It is not a subtle illness. People will look sick and are sick. Symptoms include high fever, chills, a terrible headache and fatigue within five to 10 days after a tick bite. The symptoms of ehrlichiosis are similar to Rocky Mountain spotted fever, but a rash is not as common. Half of the people who contract ehrlichiosis are hospitalized.
Other tick-borne illnesses include Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness, which is similar to Lyme disease, and Tularemia, which has symptoms similar to the flu and can progress into one of more of the seven different forms of tularemia.
What happens when you're treated?
Your treatment will depend on your symptoms and illness. For Rocky Mountain spotted fever, it has been found that the antibiotic doxycycline is effective if started before the fifth day of symptoms. Doxycycline also is used to treat ehrlichiosis.
If you have contracted Lyme disease, and it's early in your symptoms, you might be treated with an antibiotic, such as doxycycline, amoxicillin or cefuroxime. Untreated, Lyme disease can cause a variety of serious symptoms, including loss of muscle tone in your face, severe headaches and swelling in large joints. There is some controversy about “chronic” Lyme disease and whether it exists and, if it does, how to best treat it.
What's the recovery time?
Your recovery time will depend on how severe your illness was. If you're treated quickly, you usually can recover quickly. However, if people with tick-borne illnesses aren't treated early, they sometimes can develop serious symptoms and, at times, they do not survive.
It's important to take preventive measures when spending time outdoors, including wearing insect repellent, checking yourself often for ticks and checking your pets, which can bring ticks into the home.
Source: Dr. John Harkess, Mercy Hospital Oklahoma City; Oklahoma State Department of Health; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.