Protect Yourself Against Tick-Borne Disease

Food and Drug Administration issues Consumer Update

Different kinds of ticks present in the U.S. may be infected with bacteria, viruses and parasites that can be transmitted to people and cause at least 10 diseases. While there are treatments approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), prevention is the easiest, cheapest and most effective approach to combat these serious, sometimes fatal diseases.

Some disease-bearing ticks are the size of a poppy seed. Steps to prevent infection include:

  • When walking in grassy, wooded areas that are tick-prone, use an insecticide that is effective against ticks and cover up with long shirts and long pants tucked into socks.
  • Ticks must stay attached for more than 36 hours to transmit the parasite, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), so a full body check soon after being outdoors in a tick-prone area, even a suburban lawn, is urged.
  • Taking a shower within two hours of being in an area with ticks has been shown to be helpful and provides a good time to check for ticks on your body.
  • When checking for ticks, include hard-to-see areas such as between toes, between legs and on the head.
  • Remove any ticks with pointed tweezers, grabbing ticks by their mouth parts, close to your skin.

Commonly called a “deer tick,” this tick can transmit Lyme disease and a malaria-like disease called babesiosis. When in the larvae stage it is the size of a poppy seed, so checking your body for ticks requires close examination. (Click image for print version of report)


Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever are the two best-known serious diseases transmitted through tick bites in the U.S. Each year since 2002, about 20,000-30,000 people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with Lyme disease. During that same time period, between 1,400 and 2,500 cases of Rocky Mountain spotted fever have been reported each year.

More recently, health officials have documented the emergence of babesiosis, a disease caused by single-cell parasites called Babesia. The parasites are carried by the same kind of ticks that carry Lyme disease.

Young, healthy adults infected with Babesia may have no symptoms, mild symptoms or flu or malaria-like symptoms. However, Babesiosis can be severe or even fatal among the elderly, newborns and those with weak immune systems. It is treated with a combination of FDA-approved antibiotics and anti-malaria medicines.

“Public awareness is critical, because most cases of babesiosis can be prevented by avoiding tick bites,” said Mark O. Walderhaug, Ph.D., an author of a study of babesiosis among the elderly. Walderhaug is the associate director for risk assessment in FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research (CBER).



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