Common Tick-Borne Illnesses

Lyme disease typically comes to mind when we think of ticks and tick-borne illnesses, and for good reason. Borrelia Lyme disease — a bacterial infection transmitted by disease-carrying black-legged ticks and other insects like fleas, flies, mosquitos, and lice — is the most common vector-borne disease in the U.S. Well over a million people likely contract Lyme disease each year, even though only about 22 percent of Lyme patients test positive according to CDC criteria. 

What most people don’t know about tick-borne illnesses; however, is that it’s possible to contract more than one type of infection from a tick bite. According to a 2017 survey of 3,000 patients with chronic Lyme disease, it’s more common to contract multiple diseases from a tick bite than to contract a single tick-borne disease. Over half of the patients surveyed had at least one Lyme disease coinfection, while 30 percent had two or more. 

In this blog post, we’ll look at a few of the most common tick-borne illnesses and discuss what you can do if you suspect you might have one or more Lyme disease coinfections. 

Common Lyme disease coinfections

Along with Borrelia Lyme disease — a tick-borne infection caused by the spiral-shaped Borrelia burgdorferi bacterium — infected black-legged ticks can carry additional diseases such as Anaplasmosis, Ehrlichiosis, Babesiosis, Tick-Borne Relapsing Fever (TBRF), Bartonellosis, and Rickettsiosis. These disease-carrying ticks can be found anywhere in the United States but are most prevalent in the Upper Midwest and Northeastern regions. 

Babesiosis disease

Babesiosis is the most common tick-borne illness after Lyme disease, affecting at least 30 percent of Lyme patients. As a parasitic infection that resembles malaria, Babesia can cause flu-like symptoms and many other symptoms like fatigue, air hunger, night sweats, malaise, headaches, dry cough, muscle pain, an enlarged spleen, and anemia. 

Since Babesiosis is difficult to diagnose, multiple tests are often needed to make an accurate diagnosis. Patients with negative Indirect Immunofluorescent Assay (IFA) tests may require additional testing such as Fluorescent In-Situ Hybridization (FISH) tests and Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests. 

Anaplasmosis & Ehrlichiosis

Anaplasmosis and Ehrlichiosis are two other common Lyme disease coinfections, often causing symptoms within five to 14 days following a bite from an infected tick. Symptoms may include a rash, fatigue, chills, headache, cough, muscle aches, fever, red eyes, elevated liver function tests, and a low white blood cell count.   

To diagnose Anaplasmosis and Ehrlichiosis, multiple tests may be needed. Several options include PCR, IFA, and Culture Enhanced PCR (cePCR) tests. 

Rickettsiosis 

Rickettsiosis — the disease that causes Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever — can also be transmitted via infected black-legged ticks. Symptoms often resemble the flu and may include spotted rashes, confusion, abdominal pain, and back pain. 

Like Babesiosis, Anaplasmosis, and Ehrlichiosis, IFA, PCR, and cePCR tests are commonly used to diagnose Rickettsiosis. 

Bartonellosis 

Bartonellosis is another common Lyme disease coinfection that can be transmitted via the bites of ticks, lice, and fleas — and through the bites or scratches of infected cats and some other small animals. Common symptoms of Bartonellosis include brain fog; swollen glands; rib, plantar, and muscle pain; light and sound sensitivity; eye inflammation; fatigue; spleen enlargement; and streaked rashes that resemble stretch marks. 

If you suspect you could have Bartonellosis or any other Lyme disease coinfection, schedule a free 15-minute consultation to learn more about our tick-borne illness testing.

Other Lyme disease coinfections

Tick-borne relapsing fever (TBRF) is another common Lyme disease coinfection that can be spread by infected black-legged ticks. It usually starts with a high fever that resolves after several days, only to recur about a week or so later. Flu-like symptoms, a dry cough, neck pain, and light sensitivity are other common symptoms of TBRF.  

Black-legged ticks, or deer ticks, can carry several other diseases as well. While less common than Babesiosis, Anaplasmosis, Ehrlichiosis, TBRF, Bartonellosis, and Rickettsiosis, infected black-legged ticks can carry the Powassan virus: a rare but potentially fatal tick-borne infection. Again, this is why tick bite prevention and early detection are so crucial! 

Lyme disease coinfections & the ticks that carry them

In addition to black-legged ticks (or deer ticks), several other tick species carry infections like Babesiosis, TBRF, Rickettsiosis, Ehrlichiosis, Anaplasmosis, Tularemia, Southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI), Heartland virus, and Colorado Tick Fever. These tick species include the following:

  • American dog tick. Also known as wood ticks (or Dermacentor variabilis), these ticks can carry Tularemia and Rickettsiosis — the disease that causes Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.
  • Brown dog tick. Infected brown dog ticks (Rhipicephalus sanguineus) can carry Babesiosis, Rickettsiosis, and Ehrlichiosis.
  • Gulf Coast tick. The Gulf Coast tick (Amblyomma maculatum) can carry Babesiosis and a form of spotted fever known as Rickettsia parkeri rickettsiosi. 
  • Lone Star tick. The Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum) can spread Ehrlichiosis, Tularemia, STARI, Heartland virus, and Bourbon virus. 
  • Rocky Mountain wood tick. The Rocky Mountain wood tick (Dermacentor andersoni) can transmit Rickettsiosis, Tularemia, and Colorado tick fever.
  • Soft ticks. Also known as Ornithodoros, infected soft ticks can transmit TBRF.

If you find a tick on yourself or a loved one, it’s important to remove it as quickly as possible. Read our Lyme disease prevention blog post to learn more about what you can do to protect yourself from tick bites, Lyme disease, and other tick-borne illnesses. 

Tick bite prevention is key

Untreated tick-borne illnesses can be quite serious — even life-threatening in some cases — which is why tick bite prevention and early detection are so crucial. Tick-borne diseases are easiest to treat when diagnosed early on, as they can spread throughout the body and become chronic if not addressed. The three stages of Borrelia Lyme disease include:

  1. Early localized Lyme disease (or acute Lyme).
  2. Early disseminated Lyme disease.
  3. Late disseminated Lyme disease (or chronic/persistent Lyme).

Unfortunately, unless an erythema migrans (EM) rash appears after a tick bite, most people have no idea they’ve been bitten. Tick bites are painless and most people don’t know they’ve been bitten until other symptoms present. 

Even when a Lyme disease rash appears and patients are treated with the recommended three to four weeks of antibiotics after a tick bite, approximately 10 percent of patients develop Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome (PTLDS). Those with PTLDS experience persistent Lyme disease symptoms that interfere with daily living, from cognitive dysfunction and chronic fatigue to sleep issues and joint pain. 

We offer Lyme treatment & tick-borne disease testing

If you suspect you have a tick-borne illness, book a functional medicine appointment with our team to learn how we can help you heal from Lyme disease and other tick-borne infections. We offer a personalized approach to treating tick-borne illnesses, and our team is here to guide you through each step of your Lyme healing journey. 

Are you battling Lyme disease or another tick-borne disease? Contact us or book a free 15-minute consultation to learn more about our personalized approach to treating Lyme. 

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