Tick season is an issue all year long but reaches its peak from April to October. Once considered a regional issue for the northeast, ticks have become a national issue due to tick migration and an increased interest in outdoor activities due to the pandemic. When it comes to ticks, most people are concerned about the threat of Lyme disease, which is the most known tick-borne disease, but it is far from being the only tick-borne pathogen out there.
This is why if a tick bites you or your pet, it is important to test for other tick-borne pathogens that can be just as dangerous to your health. Knowing the bug that bit you is critical to giving you complete peace of mind. Testing the tick is a proactive measure to take that can help your doctor (or veterinarian) determine the best course of action to take to prevent future health problems.
Be Sure with Tick Testing
If you find a tick on you or your pet’s skin, be very careful when removing it. The way in which the tick is removed can affect whether or not a pathogen-positive tick’s disease will be transmitted to your body. Once you have carefully removed the tick, do not freeze it or burn it. Instead package it carefully with a moist cotton ball and send it to a testing lab that tests for the most common tick-borne pathogens, in addition to Lyme disease. Be sure to send the tick into a lab that uses a DNA-based method to test with a higher specificity, for more accuracy.
Having a tick test and sample collection kit ready makes this a much easier process, especially if you are away from your home, camping or on vacation. In the Tick SURE kits our lab developed, we include step-by-step instructions on how to remove the tick, specific plastic tweezers that can easily grip and remove the tick without damaging your skin or the tick (using metal beauty tweezers are not recommended), a cotton ball and sealed bag to safely send it into our lab, along with a pre-paid postage mailer (so all you have to do is drop it in the mail). Having one of these tick test and sample collection kits as part of your first aid kit is smart and will alleviate a lot of stress in the event that you do find a tick on you or your pet’s skin. Lab fees for walk-in testing can cost up to $200, but tests like ours are more convenient and can cost less than half of this amount. At the same time you send the tick in for testing, make an appointment with your doctor, even if you are not experiencing any symptoms. By doing this you will better equip your doctor with details about the tick that bit you, which will eliminate a lot of guesswork and make your appointment that much more productive.
If You Test Positive
Don’t panic. A positive tick test does not necessarily mean that the disease was transmitted to you (or your pet’s) body. Share the results with your doctor and pay attention to any symptoms that may exist. Lyme disease symptoms can be very similar to cold and flu symptoms, so do not dismiss them. If Lyme disease is diagnosed early doctors can use antibiotics to get rid of the disease within the first 14 days after transmission. If left untreated, Lyme disease can stay with you for the rest of your life.
Early Lyme disease symptoms (first 30 days) in people include: fever, headache, chills, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, rashes and muscle and joint aches. Later symptoms include: severe headache, neck stiffness, rashes, arthritis with joint pain and swelling, facial paralysis, irregular heartbeat and palpitations, dizziness, inflammation of the brain and spinal cord, nerve pain, numbness and short-term memory loss.
Lyme disease in dogs is usually limited to joints and causes listlessness. More severe, rare cases can affect the heart, kidney, or brain. Dogs show sudden lameness and sometimes signs of severe pain. One or more joints may be involved. Joints are often swollen, warm to the touch, and painful upon manipulation. Dogs may have fever and lethargy, or experience changes in appetite. Lameness may recur after a period of recovery lasting several weeks and occurs an average of two to five months after tick exposure.
Even though it is uncommon in cats, they can still contract Lyme disease from ticks brought inside by other pets or tracked in on clothing. Ticks can be found anywhere on a cat’s body, but usually will attach on the head, neck, ears or feet. The dominant clinical feature of Lyme in cats is lameness due to inflammation of the joints, lack of appetite, and lethargy. Some cats develop kidney conditions, and rarely heart or nervous system diseases.
Know These Tick Types
Beyond Lyme disease, there are several species of ticks in the United States that bite and transmit diseases to humans, including:
- Black-legged tick (deer tick), which transmits Lyme disease, Anaplasmosis, Babesiosis and Powassan disease; found mostly in the Northeast and Upper Midwest of the United States.
- American dog tick (wood tick), which transmits Tularemia and Rocky Mountain spotted fever; mostly found east of the Rocky Mountains and along the California coast.
- Lone star tick (turkey tick), which transmits bacteria that cause Ehrlichiosis, Tularemia and STARI; found widely in the eastern half of the United States.
- Gulf Coast tick, which transmits Rickettsioses; found across the Atlantic seaboard and the Gulf of Mexico.
- Brown dog tick (kennel tick), which transmits Rocky Mountain spotted fever; found worldwide and transmits the fever in southwestern United States.
- Western black-legged tick, which transmits Lyme disease and Anaplasmosis; found along the Pacific Coast.
- Rocky Mountain wood tick, which transmits Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Colorado tick fever and Tularemia; found in the Rocky Mountain states.
In addition to having a tick test and sample collection kit on hand, here are some general recommendations on how to prevent tick bites:
- Avoid direct contact with ticks by avoiding woody and grassy areas. Stay near the center of trails when hiking.
- Dress with more coverage to cover the skin with long sleeves, pants and proper footwear.
- Shower as soon as you get home, and check your body, pets and gear for ticks. Throw your clothes in the dryer on high heat for about 10 minutes to kill any ticks on your clothes.
- Keep your distance from animals that carry ticks, such as squirrels, deer, opossums, raccoons, rats and birds.
Don’t Panic, Prevent and Test
The threat of tick season should not ruin the beauty spring, summer and fall months have to offer. Awareness and preventative measures will help bring peace of mind and protect your health. Keep a tick test and sample collection kit on hand, watch videos on how to remove a tick in advance, make sure you have the right tweezers for tick removal and get in the habit of doing tick checks before entering the home. If you get bit, collect the tick, send it in for testing and schedule an appointment with your doctor. Not delaying these actions can protect your health and help you avoid a life-long illness like Lyme disease.
Sandra Lee is CEO of NJ Labs, a nationally recognized provider and advocate for quality in chemistry and microbiology testing that serves the pharmaceutical, nutraceutical, dietary supplement, cosmetic, and cannabis/CBD industries. As a scientist and one of the few female CEOs in the analytical testing industry, she has a passion for chemistry and how it influences multiple aspects of our daily lives. At NJ Labs she leads the privately owned FDA and DEA inspected facility that has been a mainstay in the testing industry for 85 years with a certified full-service contract analytical testing laboratory that follows strict Current Good Manufacturing Practice (CGMP) regulations and holds ISO/IEC 17025:2017 accreditation. She also hosts the “Going Beyond Testing” podcast series to help companies and consumers get an insider’s look at testing practices and what should be tested to keep products safe and effective. Lee is a graduate of the University of Michigan where she holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry.