Jul 15, 2002 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 But medical information is always changing, and some information given here may be out of date.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

Tick-Borne Diseases

Am Fam Physician. 2002 Jul 15;66(2):312.

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 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 for 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 them. Ticks will often crawl up on a person's clothes or body for several hours before attaching to the skin.

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

You may first feel like you have flu symptoms: fever, chills, and body aches. You may also have a rash. You may not remember being bitten by a tick.

How are tick-borne diseases treated?

Most tick-borne diseases can be treated 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. When you are outdoors, follow these guidelines:

  1. Use tick repellents according to their instructions. Tick repellents that contain DEET can be put directly on your skin or on your clothing before going into tick-infested areas. Repellents containing permethrin should only be put on clothing.

  2. Wear shirts 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 you. Check your entire body for ticks after you have been in tick-infested areas.

  3. Remove any attached ticks as soon as possible. To remove an attached tick, use tweezers to grab the tick firmly by the head or as close to the head as possible and pull straight out. Do not put 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 © 2002 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
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