Aug 1, 2001 Table of Contents

Please note: This information was current at the time of publication. But medical information is always changing, and some information given here may be out of date. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit familydoctor.org, the AAFP patient education Web site.

Information from Your Family Doctor

What You Should Know About Tick-borne Diseases

Am Fam Physician. 2001 Aug 1;64(3):468.

What are tick-borne diseases?

Tick-borne diseases are a group of illnesses that people get from tick bites. They occur in all areas of the United States and affect people of all ages. These diseases are more common in the spring and summer months when tick bites are more common. Some of the common tick-borne diseases in the United States are Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis (say: er-lick-ee-o-sis), Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia (say: too-la-ree-me-a).

Who gets tick-borne diseases?

People who spend time in areas where tick bites are common, either through work or recreation, are at higher risk of getting tick-borne diseases. Ticks usually wait near the top of grassy plants and low bushes for people or animals to brush up against their perch. Ticks will often crawl upward on a person's clothes or body for up to several hours or more before attaching to the skin.

How would I know if I have a tick-borne disease?

You may first have flu-like symptoms. Often, you will have fever, chills and body aches. You may also have a rash. You may not recall being bitten by a tick.

How are tick-borne diseases treated?

Most tick-borne diseases respond well to treatment with antibiotics. You will get better more quickly if you see a doctor and begin treatment right away.

How can I prevent tick-borne diseases?

The best way to prevent tick-borne diseases is to avoid being bitten by ticks. Use tick repellants according to their instructions to help prevent bites. Tick repellants that contain DEET can be put directly on your skin or on your clothing before going into tick-infested areas. Repellants containing permethrin should only be put on clothing.

Wear tops with long sleeves and wear long pants to prevent ticks from getting into the skin. Tuck pant legs into socks to help you see ticks before they get on your skin and bite. Check the entire body for ticks after you have been in tick-infested areas and remove any attached ticks as soon as possible to help prevent illness.

To remove an attached tick, use fine tweezers to grab the tick firmly by the head or as close to the head as possible and pull. Do not use heat, petroleum jelly or other things on the tick to try to make it “back out” on its own.


This handout is provided to you by your family doctor and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Other health-related information is available from the AAFP online at http://familydoctor.org.

This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.

Copyright © 2001 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
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