Managing the Uptick in Tick-Borne Diseases

The summer months bring warmer weather, time off, vacations and … ticks. In the U.S., the transmission of infections that cause tick-borne diseases occur primarily in the spring and summer, when ticks are most active and more likely to come into contact with your patients.

Lyme disease: a growing concern

Though considered somewhat rare in the mid-1980s,1 Lyme disease is now the most common tick-borne disease in the U.S.—with an estimated 300,000 cases each year.

Why the increase? The geographical range of tick-borne diseases has expanded—mostly due to the growing deer population—while land that was once cleared for farming has become reforested, attracting more tick hosts (like deer) and more suburban development.1 In other words, your patients’ everyday activities now put them in closer contact with wildlife—and ticks.

Other tick-borne illnesses

In addition to Lyme disease, and depending on where your practice is located, you and your patients may also contend with:

  • Rickettsial diseases—including Rocky Mountain spotted fever, human granulocytic anaplasmosis, human monocytic ehrlichiosis, and Ehrlichia ewingii infection
  • Non-rickettsial diseases—including Colorado tick fever, Q fever, tularemia, tick-borne relapsing fever, and babesiosis

The obstacles to diagnosis

Many tick-borne diseases can have similar signs and symptoms, presenting a diagnostic challenge. Clinical manifestations vary depending on the type of disease, but frequently include fever, chills, sweating, headaches, myalgia, arthralgia, nausea, and vomiting.

Yet another challenge? The characteristic bull’s-eye rash (erythema migrans) typically associated with Lyme disease only happens 20% of the time3 and may take alternate forms—solid lesions, blue-purple hues, and crusted or blistering lesions have all been documented.4

And yet, timely, differential diagnosis is vital

While most tick-borne illness can be treated with antibiotics, it’s important to diagnose the problem early, to avoid complications.

A delay in diagnosing Lyme disease, for example, can result in cardiac symptoms, neurological problems, and arthritis,1 while for other tick-borne diseases, such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever and anaplasmosis, delay in treatment may result in death.4

To assist you in making these diagnoses, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released Tickborne Diseases of the United States: A Reference Manual for Health Care Providers in 2015. The manual includes:

  • Tick identification
  • Maps of disease incidence
  • Overview of each tick-borne illness, including geographic location, incubation period, signs and symptoms, general laboratory findings, and laboratory confirmation guidelines
  • Tips for prevention and tick removal

Accurate, comprehensive testing from Quest can help

Quest Diagnostics offers more than 30 tests and panels for the diagnosis and management of tick-borne diseases—including Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, human granulocytic anaplasmosis, human monocytic ehrlichiosis, Colorado tick fever, Q fever, tick-borne relapsing fever, and babesiosis.

Make timely, differential diagnoses with Quest’s new molecular panel, offering fast turnaround time for the Northeast region—48 hours from specimen receipt. Quest’s broad range of accurate, reliable tests and panels also allows you to identify ticks and other arthropods and distinguish acute from chronic diseases.

While there are many things your patients can do to protect themselves from tick-borne diseases this summer—e.g., wearing DEET, checking for ticks daily—timely, comprehensive testing can help you accurately diagnose and manage tick-borne disease if and when you suspect it.


1. Harvard Health Publications. Recognizing and avoiding tick-borne illness. Harvard Medical School. Jun 2009. Accessed April 24, 2017. Available at www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/Recognizing-and-avoiding-tick-borne-illness.
2. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How many people get Lyme disease? Accessed April 24, 2017. Available at www.cdc.gov/lyme/stats/humancases.html.
3. Stringfellow B. Visiting physician sheds new light on Lyme disease. 13 Jul 2016. Accessed April 24, 2017. Available at www.mvtimes.com/2016/07/13/visiting-physician-sheds-new-light-lyme-disease.
4. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tickborne diseases of the United States: a reference manual for health care providers. Third edition, 2015. Accessed April 24, 2017. Available at www.cdc.gov/lyme/resources/tickbornediseases.pdf.