Tick-Borne Diseases in the Northeast

Updated: May 10

What are tick-borne diseases?

Tick-borne diseases are diseases that are transmitted from ticks to humans and animals. The ticks must be infected and must bite the animal or human to transmit the disease. Some of the most common tick-borne diseases in the United States include Lyme Disease, Babesiosis, Ehrlichiosis, Anaplasmosis, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Most of these diseases have nonspecific clinical signs, and when left untreated can cause severe illness or even death. Since there are many types of ticks that transmit many different diseases, this post will focus on the big four tick-borne diseases in the Northeast United States: Lyme Disease, Anaplasmosis, Babesiosis and Ehrlichiosis.


A map of reported cases of tick-borne diseases across the United States.

What are the most common types of ticks in the Northeast?

In the northeast, there are two ticks that are widely distributed throughout the region. Those two are the Blacklegged Tick, ixodes scapularis (right) and the Lone Star Tick, amyblyomma americanum (left). Together, they transmit Lyme disease, Anaplasmosis, Ehrlichiosis and Babesiosis. The greatest risk of being bitten exists in the spring, summer and fall months. However, adult ticks may be out searching for a host any time winter temperatures are above freezing. Therefore, it is important to use preventative all year around, but we’ll get there later!


Lone Star Tick - Amblyomma americanum

Blacklegged Tick - Ixodes scapularis

What is Lyme Disease?

Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, is transmitted by infected blacklegged ticks, Ixodes scapularis, and must be attached for 36- 48 hours to transmit the disease. These ticks are commonly found in wooded areas and is very prevalent in the Northeast along with the Mid-Atlantic, North-Central, and Western regions of the United States. Clinical signs in pets include lethargy, joint inflammation, limping, decreased appetite, and fever. Clinical signs typically do not present until 2 to 5 months after infected tick bite. In the scenario that a human is infected, symptoms can occur as quickly as 3 days or take as long as 30 days to develop. Early symptoms in humans include a red “ring-like” skin rash, fever, exhaustion, joint or muscle aches and can progress to severe joint arthritis, heart palpations, nerve pain, and numbing if left untreated. Be sure to talk to your health care provider if you are experiencing symptoms.




What is Anaplasmosis?

Anaplasmosis in dogs is caused by the bacterium anaplasma phagocytophilum, is transmitted by infected blacklegged ticks, Ixodes scapularis, and must be attached for > 24 hours to transmit disease. It is most frequently reported from the Upper Midwest and northeastern United States but is uncommonly seen compared to Lyme Disease. Clinical signs in dogs include lethargy, anorexia, fever, and central nervous system signs like seizures, and ataxia. More characteristically, the disease can cause pinpoint bruises on the skin called petechiae as well as low numbers of platelets and white blood cells, specifically neutrophils. Since most of the clinical signs are nonspecific, anaplasmosis is typically diagnosed with an ELISA blood test that detects the abnormality in blood cells, after considering the patient’s history, geographical region, season, onset of disease and environmental exposure. In the scenario that a human is infected, symptoms can occur as quickly as 5 days or take as long as 14 days to develop. Early symptoms in humans include nonspecific signs like fever, chills, rigors, severe headache, malaise, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Like animals, anaplasmosis in humans is diagnosed with a blood test after considering the history, geographical region, season, onset of disease and environmental exposure. Be sure to talk to your health care provider if you are experiencing symptoms.


What is Ehrlichiosis?

Ehrlichiosis in dogs is caused by the bacteriums ehrlichia canis and ehrlichia chaffeensis, and are transmitted by infected Lone Star tick, amblyomma americanum and it is most frequently reported from the southeastern and south-central United States, from the East Coast extending westward to Texas. Clinical signs in dogs include lethargy, anorexia, fever, weight loss, and central nervous system signs like seizures, tremors, and ataxia. More characteristically, the disease can cause pinpoint bruises on the skin called petechiae as well as bloody discharge from the nose (epistaxis), and swollen joints cause limping and lameness. Since most of the clinical signs are nonspecific, Ehrlichiosis is typically diagnosed with an ELISA blood test that detects the abnormality in blood cells, after considering the patient’s history, geographical region, season, onset of disease and environmental exposure. In the scenario that a human is infected, typically with e. chaffeensis, symptoms can occur as quickly as 5 days or take as long as 14 days to develop. Early symptoms in humans include nonspecific signs like fever, chills, muscle pain, altered mental status, headache, malaise, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Like animals, ehrlichiosis in humans is diagnosed with a blood test after considering the history, geographical region, season, onset of disease and environmental exposure. Be sure to talk to your health care provider if you are experiencing symptoms.


What is Babesiosis?

Babesiosis in dogs is caused by the bacterium babesia microti, is transmitted by infected blacklegged tick, ixodes scapularis and it is most frequently reported from the northeastern and upper Midwestern United States. Clinical signs in dogs include fever, anorexia, nausea, malaise, dark urine, and less commonly cough, and jaundice. More characteristically, the disease can cause enlarged spleen and liver that can lead to abdominal pain as well as decreased platelets and increase kidney (BUN and creatinine) and liver enzymes. Since most of the clinical signs are nonspecific, Babesiosis is typically diagnosed on blood smear examination, after considering the patient’s history, geographical region, season, onset of disease and environmental exposure. In the scenario that a human is infected, symptoms can occur as quickly as 7 days or take as long as 9 weeks to develop. Early symptoms in humans include nonspecific signs like fever, fatigue, chills, sweats, headache, malaise, nausea, vomiting, and less commonly sore throat, cough, and depression. Like animals, Erlichiosis in humans is diagnosed with blood smear examination after considering the history, geographical region, season, onset of disease and environmental exposure. Be sure to talk to your health care provider if you are experiencing symptoms.


Why is it a concern for human health?

While your pet cannot directly transmit a tick-borne disease directly to you, if your pet has been exposed to ticks then you have likely been exposed as well. The reason disease is seen more in pets than humans is because our pets are lower to the ground than we are, have long hair, and cannot remove ticks on their own or take showers like humans do. Tick-borne diseases can infect humans the same way they infect animals and can cause just as severe of disease if left untreated.


How can I prevent my pet or myself from getting tick-borne diseases?

The best way to prevent ticks on pets is to apply a flea and tick preventative to your pet – a topical solution, oral tablet, or collar. It is extremely important to use preventatives all year around, especially in the northeast, due to high concentration of ticks in the region and the constant fluctuations in the temperature. Adult ticks may be out searching for a host any time winter temperatures are above freezing and can transmit disease even in the winter months. To further reduce the chances that a tick bite will make your dog sick, check your pets for ticks daily (especially after they spend time outdoors). If you find a tick on your pet remove it right away and reduce tick habitats in yards with a pesticide spray and good yard care. As for humans, know where to expect ticks, use an insect repellent, check clothing and body for ticks, and shower soon after being outdoors. Common places ticks like hide on humans are under the arms, in and around the ears, inside belly button, back of knees, in and around hair, between the legs and around the waist. If you find a tick attached to your skin, there’s no need to panic, remove it as soon as possible using a fine-tipped tweezers, making sure you remove the whole tick.


Disclaimer: The information above has been gathered from veterinary textbooks, peer-reviewed journals and information pages from the Center for Disease Control. The goal of this blog post was to provide background information on tick-borne diseases in the Northeast. This post is not considered a client recommendation nor can be used as a diagnostic and/or treatment tool for a pet. All pet owners must consult their veterinarians if necessary.

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