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Tickborne Diseases

Tickborne diseases, such as Lyme disease, are illnesses passed from ticks to humans. Ticks are small, eight-legged arachnids that feed on the blood of other animals.  They painlessly attach themselves to a host and feed on the host's blood until they swell to many times their normal size.  Ticks need these blood-meals to move from one life stage to another.  During these feedings, they can transmit disease-causing bacteria or viruses to people and animals. The following ticks are found in the DC-area: American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis), Blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis), Brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus), Gulf Coast tick (Amblyomma maculatum), and the Lone star tick (Amblyomma americanum). 

Diseases that these tick species can carry and transmit include: 

Not all ticks carry the same diseases and not all life stages of ticks can transmit disease.  Different species transmit different diseases.  The species of an adult tick can be identified by the coloring and patterns found on its outer covering.  Select the following link for a complete guide on identifying different tick species and what diseases they can carry: DC Health Tick Identification Guide

Tick Bite Prevention

Regardless of the species of tick, preventing tick bites and exposures is the same

The best way to prevent tickborne diseases is to avoid tick bites by:

  • Avoiding areas where ticks are active (wooded or brushy areas with high grass and/or leaf litter).
  • Applying repellents that contain 20% or more DEET, picaridin, or IR3535 on exposed skin, following product application instructions, when entering areas where ticks are active.
    • Using products that contain 0.5% permethrin on clothing and gear (such as boots, pants, socks and tents).
      • When applying repellents keep in mind that ticks do not fly, jump, or drop from trees. They seek hosts by climbing to the top of ground plants and foliage, attaching to people and animals when they brush past. This should guide you on where you should apply repellents on your body.
  • Speaking to your veterinarian about keeping your pet’s tick prevention current.  Your pet can also get tickborne diseases or carry ticks into your home where they can then bite you or a member of your family. Use the following guide to find places where ticks like to hide on your pet’s body: CDC: How to Check Your Pet for Ticks

Some ticks are active all year round.  This means when there is cold weather, you should not stop being vigilant for ticks and should still follow the previous recommendations to prevent exposures and bites.

If you are bitten by a tick, the best thing to do is remove it quickly and carefully. Ticks must be attached for several hours to days to transmit most diseases they might carry.  Removing a tick incorrectly can result in an instant disease exposure or leave mouthparts in the skin causing skin irritation or infection.  This is why it is important to remove ticks correctly, as described below:

Most tickborne diseases can be prevented by removing the tick within the first 24 hours of it attaching.  Properly removing a tick from your skin, a family member, or your pet is easy with a pair of fine-tipped tweezers.  To safely remove an attached tick: 
tick removal jpg 2

  • Grasp it as close to the skin’s surface as possible.
  • Pull upward using steady pressure. 
  • Dispose of the tick by submerging it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed container, or flushing it down the toilet. Do not crush ticks with your bare fingers as doing so may expose you to any diseases it is carrying.
    • NEVER twist or jerk the tick out as this may cause the tick’s mouthparts to detach from the tick’s body and remain in the skin. If this happens, try to remove the mouthparts with clean tweezers. Once the tick is removed, clean and disinfect the bite area.
    • DO NOT remove a tick by holding a hot match to it. Doing so may cause it to regurgitate its gut contents, including any disease causing agents it is carrying, into your body resulting in an instant exposure.
    • DO NOT cover a tick in nail polish or petroleum jelly and wait for it to fall off.  Ticks should be removed as soon as they are discovered to reduce the chance of disease transmission.

If you develop a rash or fever within several weeks of removing a tick, see your doctor.  Be sure to tell the doctor about your recent tick bite, when the bite occurred, and where you most likely picked up the tick.

To learn more about ticks, repellents, treating your yard, or submit a picture of a tick you find for identification visit TickEncounter.org 

Tickborne Surveillance in Our Region

The following study includes information on surveillance findings of tick found in National Parks within the National Capitol Region during 2014 and 2015:

Prevalence and Diversity of Tick-Borne Pathogens in Nymphal Ixodes scapularis (Acari: Ixodidae) in Eastern National Parks

Recently a new tick has been identified on the East Coast, the longhorned tick. This tick was first seen in 2017 in New Jersey and can transmit diseases to people. To learn more about the longhorned tick visit the Northeast Regional Center for Excellence in Vector-Borne Diseases (NEVBD) webpage.

Information for Healthcare Providers

Reporting tickborne diseases in people

All cases of tickborne diseases in a person should be reported using DC Reporting and Surveillance Center (DCRC), our online reporting system.

►Submit a Notifiable Disease and Condition Case Report Form using DCRC  

Treatment
When treating patients for tickborne diseases keep in mind that due to the possibility of ticks transmitting more than one disease there is the potential of co-infections.

Tickborne Disease Resources for Human Healthcare Providers

DC Health Contact Information
For more information on tick-borne diseases call (202) 442-9143 or email [email protected].