Flu-Like Symptoms After a Tick Bite

Tick
Different species of ticks carry different disease-causing microbes. (Image: ErikKarits/iStock/Getty Images)

Ticks commonly carry disease-causing bacteria, parasites and viruses. Bites from these spider-like pests often transmit infectious diseases to humans. Tick-borne illnesses include Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, babesiosis, Colorado tick fever, Southern tick-associated rash illness, relapsing fever and Q fever. Each of these diseases causes a range of flu-like symptoms, which can confound diagnosis. Laboratory testing typically clarifies diagnosis to ensure appropriate early treatment.

Fever

Fever is a unifying feature of all human tick-borne diseases. Fevers associated with Lyme disease are typically low-grade, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In contrast, relapsing fever, Q fever and babesiosis cause high fevers, usually 104 to 105 degrees F. Chills and excessive sweating often accompany high fevers. Relapsing fever, Colorado tick fever and babesiosis cause a relapsing fever pattern with high fever for several days followed by an interval without fever, and then return of high fever.

Headache

Headache of varying severity accompanies all human tick-borne diseases. The CDC reports that severe headaches most commonly occur with Rocky Mountain spotted fever, babesiosis, relapsing fever and Q fever. Relapsing fever often includes signs of meningitis, such as stiff neck, confusion and an aversion to bright light.

Fatigue and Malaise

Fatigue and malaise—a pervasive sense of illness—commonly occur with tick-borne diseases, notes the CDC. The severity of the illness correlates to the level of fatigue and malaise. Tick-borne diseases most likely to cause profound malaise include Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia, babesiosis, relapsing fever, Colorado tick fever and Q fever.

Body Aches

As with the flu, muscle and joint aches commonly occur with tick-borne diseases. Muscle aches frequently occur with Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis, tularemia, Colorado tick fever, Southern tick-associated rash illness, relapsing fever and Q fever. The CDC points out that joint aches predominate with Lyme disease.

Nausea, Vomiting and Diarrhea

Nausea and vomiting usually feature prominently in Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis, babesiosis, relapsing fever, Colorado tick fever and Q fever. Abdominal pain may accompany nausea and vomiting. The CDC notes that diarrhea often occurs with Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Q fever.

Cough

The CDC explains that dry cough may be a presenting symptom of Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, tularemia, babesiosis, relapsing fever and Q fever. Progression to pneumonia, with phlegm production and shortness of breath, may develop with Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia, relapsing fever and Q fever.

Sore Throat

Sore throat may occur with certain tick-borne illnesses. The CDC lists sore throat as a possible presenting complaint with tularemia and Q fever.

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