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Tick bite

Ticks are bugs that can attach to you as you brush past bushes, plants, and grass. Once on you, ticks often move to a warm, moist place on your body, like the armpits, groin, and hair. There, they typically attach firmly to your skin and begin to draw blood. Avoiding ticks is important because they can infect you with bacteria and other organisms that cause illness.

Ticks can be fairly large, about the size of a pencil eraser, or so small that they are almost impossible to see. There are about 850 different types of ticks. Most tick bites are harmless, but some can cause mild to serious health conditions.

This article describes the effects of a tick bite.

This article is for information only. DO NOT use it to treat or manage a tick bite. If you or someone you are with is bitten by a tick, call your local emergency number (such as 911), or your local poison center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States.

Poisonous Ingredient

Hard- and soft-bodied female ticks are believed to make a poison that can cause tick paralysis in children.

Most ticks do not carry diseases, but some carry bacteria that can cause:

These and other illnesses may cause heart, nervous system, kidney, adrenal gland, and liver damage, and may cause death.

Where Found

Ticks live in wooded areas or grassy fields.

Symptoms

Watch for symptoms of tick-borne diseases in the weeks after a tick bite. These include muscle or joint aches, stiff neck, headache, weakness, fever, swollen lymph nodes, and other flu-like symptoms. Watch for a red spot or rash starting at the site of the bite.

The symptoms below are from the bite itself, not from the diseases a bite may cause. Some of the symptoms are caused by one variety of tick or another, but may not be common to all ticks.

  • Stopped breathing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Blisters
  • Rash
  • Severe pain at site lasting several weeks (from some kinds of ticks)
  • Swelling at site (from some kinds of ticks)
  • Weakness
  • Uncoordinated movement

Home Care

Remove the tick. Be careful not to leave the tick's head stuck in the skin. If possible place the tick in a closed container and take it to the emergency room. Then clean the area with soap and water.

Before Calling Emergency

Have this information ready:

  • Person's age, weight, and condition
  • Time the tick bite occurred
  • Part of the body affected

Poison Control

Your local poison center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States. They will give you further instructions.

This is a free and confidential service. All local poison control centers in the United States use this national number. You should call if you have any questions about poisoning or poison prevention. It does NOT need to be an emergency. You can call for any reason, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

What to Expect at the Emergency Room

The symptoms will be treated. Long-term treatment may be needed if complications develop. Preventive antibiotics are often given to people who live in areas where Lyme disease is common.

The person may receive:

  • Blood and urine tests
  • Breathing support, including oxygen (a tube down the throat and a breathing machine in serious cases)
  • Chest x-ray
  • ECG (electrocardiogram, or heart tracing)
  • Intravenous fluids (through a vein)
  • Medicines to treat symptoms

Outlook (Prognosis)

Most tick bites are harmless. The outcome will depend on what type of infection the tick may have been carrying and how soon appropriate treatment was started. If you are bitten by a tick that carried a disease and you were not treated correctly, long-term health effects may occur months or even years later.

Wear protective clothing when traveling through an area which is known to harbor ticks. Examine your skin for signs of tick bites or ticks after your travels.

References

Bryant K. Tickborne infections. In: Long SS, Prober CG, Fischer M, eds. Principles and Practice of Pediatric Infectious Diseases. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 90.

Cummins GA, Traub SJ. Tick-borne diseases. In: Auerbach PS, Cushing TA, Harris NS, eds. Aurebach's Wilderness Medicine. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 42.

Otten EJ. Venomous animal injuries. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 55.

  • Lyme disease - erythema migrans

    Lyme disease - erythema migrans - illustration

    Erythema migrans is the initial lesion of Lyme disease, and often appears at the site of the infecting tick bite. It is a red, enlarging rash, flat or slightly raised, and may reach from 4 to 20 inches (12 to 35 cm) across (the average rash is 6 inches, or 17 cm). (Image courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)

    Lyme disease - erythema migrans

    illustration

  • Lyme disease organism - Borrelia burgdorferi

    Lyme disease organism - Borrelia burgdorferi - illustration

    Borrelia burgdorferi is a spirochete bacteria that causes Lyme disease. It is similar in shape to the spirochetes that cause other diseases, such as relapsing fever and syphilis. (Image courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)

    Lyme disease organism - Borrelia burgdorferi

    illustration

  • Deer ticks

    Deer ticks - illustration

    Diseases are often carried by ticks, including Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Colorado Tick Fever, Lyme disease, and tularemia. Less common or less frequent diseases include typhus, Q-fever, relapsing fever, viral encephalitis, hemorrhagic fever, and babesiosis.

    Deer ticks

    illustration

  • Ticks

    Ticks - illustration

    There are many species of ticks. Of these, a large proportion are capable of carrying disease. Diseases carried by ticks include Lyme disease, Ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Colorado Tick Fever, tularemia, typhus, hemorrhagic fever, and viral encephalitis. (Image courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)

    Ticks

    illustration

  • Tick - deer engorged on the skin

    Tick - deer engorged on the skin - illustration

    This is an engorged deer tick (Ixodes dammini) embedded in the skin of a human host. In the United States, these ticks are the primary source of Lyme disease. (Image courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and M. Fergione.)

    Tick - deer engorged on the skin

    illustration

  • Lyme disease - Borrelia burgdorferi organism

    Lyme disease - Borrelia burgdorferi organism - illustration

    Lyme disease is caused by a bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi. It is known as a spirochete because of its long, corkscrew shape. This photograph shows the typical corkscrew appearance of a spirochete. (Image courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)

    Lyme disease - Borrelia burgdorferi organism

    illustration

  • Tick, deer - adult female

    Tick, deer - adult female - illustration

    This is an adult female deer tick, Ixodes dammini. It transmits Lyme disease and babesiosis to humans. (Image courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)

    Tick, deer - adult female

    illustration

  • Deer and dog tick

    Deer and dog tick - illustration

    Ticks are small, insect-like creatures that live in woods and fields. They can attach to people or animals as they brush past bushes, plants, and grass. Ticks can be fairly large, as big as a pencil eraser, or so small that they are almost impossible to see. While most ticks do not carry diseases, some ticks can cause Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Colorado tick fever, and tularemia.

    Deer and dog tick

    illustration

  • Tick imbedded in the skin

    Tick imbedded in the skin - illustration

    This is a close-up photograph of a tick embedded in the skin. Ticks are important because they can carry diseases such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia, Colorado tick fever, Lyme disease, and others.

    Tick imbedded in the skin

    illustration

    • Lyme disease - erythema migrans

      Lyme disease - erythema migrans - illustration

      Erythema migrans is the initial lesion of Lyme disease, and often appears at the site of the infecting tick bite. It is a red, enlarging rash, flat or slightly raised, and may reach from 4 to 20 inches (12 to 35 cm) across (the average rash is 6 inches, or 17 cm). (Image courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)

      Lyme disease - erythema migrans

      illustration

    • Lyme disease organism - Borrelia burgdorferi

      Lyme disease organism - Borrelia burgdorferi - illustration

      Borrelia burgdorferi is a spirochete bacteria that causes Lyme disease. It is similar in shape to the spirochetes that cause other diseases, such as relapsing fever and syphilis. (Image courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)

      Lyme disease organism - Borrelia burgdorferi

      illustration

    • Deer ticks

      Deer ticks - illustration

      Diseases are often carried by ticks, including Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Colorado Tick Fever, Lyme disease, and tularemia. Less common or less frequent diseases include typhus, Q-fever, relapsing fever, viral encephalitis, hemorrhagic fever, and babesiosis.

      Deer ticks

      illustration

    • Ticks

      Ticks - illustration

      There are many species of ticks. Of these, a large proportion are capable of carrying disease. Diseases carried by ticks include Lyme disease, Ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Colorado Tick Fever, tularemia, typhus, hemorrhagic fever, and viral encephalitis. (Image courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)

      Ticks

      illustration

    • Tick - deer engorged on the skin

      Tick - deer engorged on the skin - illustration

      This is an engorged deer tick (Ixodes dammini) embedded in the skin of a human host. In the United States, these ticks are the primary source of Lyme disease. (Image courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and M. Fergione.)

      Tick - deer engorged on the skin

      illustration

    • Lyme disease - Borrelia burgdorferi organism

      Lyme disease - Borrelia burgdorferi organism - illustration

      Lyme disease is caused by a bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi. It is known as a spirochete because of its long, corkscrew shape. This photograph shows the typical corkscrew appearance of a spirochete. (Image courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)

      Lyme disease - Borrelia burgdorferi organism

      illustration

    • Tick, deer - adult female

      Tick, deer - adult female - illustration

      This is an adult female deer tick, Ixodes dammini. It transmits Lyme disease and babesiosis to humans. (Image courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)

      Tick, deer - adult female

      illustration

    • Deer and dog tick

      Deer and dog tick - illustration

      Ticks are small, insect-like creatures that live in woods and fields. They can attach to people or animals as they brush past bushes, plants, and grass. Ticks can be fairly large, as big as a pencil eraser, or so small that they are almost impossible to see. While most ticks do not carry diseases, some ticks can cause Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Colorado tick fever, and tularemia.

      Deer and dog tick

      illustration

    • Tick imbedded in the skin

      Tick imbedded in the skin - illustration

      This is a close-up photograph of a tick embedded in the skin. Ticks are important because they can carry diseases such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia, Colorado tick fever, Lyme disease, and others.

      Tick imbedded in the skin

      illustration


     

    Review Date: 7/10/2017

    Reviewed By: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Emeritus, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

    The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., a business unit of Ebix, Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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