SYMPTOMS and SIGNS
The major class of illness spread by ticks in Florida are Rickettsia infections. The symptoms associated Rickettsia infection include fever, chills, generalized headache and muscle aches and nausea. Some individuals develop a red spotted rash. A history of tick bites or being an area with tall grass or brush where ticks are likely to be present should raise the possibility of this infection.
The antibiotic doxycycline is very effective for curing these diseases. As soon as this Rickettsia infection is suspected this antibiotic should be started. No vaccine is available for humans.
CAUSES and RELEVANCE to FLORIDA
The leading Rickettsial infection found in Florida is Ehrlichia. It is spread by the Lone Star tick and white-tailed deer are the main animal reservoir. The deer population in Florida is thriving, particularly in the northern regions of our state, providing an ideal reservoir for Ehrlichia. In addition, large regions of Florida are covered with brush and long grasses the preferred environments for ticks.
The best way to prevent contracting Ehrlichia and other Rickettsial infections is to avoid tick bites. Long sleeves shirts and pants decrease the surfaces available for ticks to attach. Avoid areas with tall grasses and heavy brush. On returning home from such areas, be sure to inspect your skin for crawling ticks. If the tick is not allowed to attach, it cannot transmit infection. Insect repellant is very effective for preventing ticks from attaching. Products containing DEET (N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide) are most effective.
Prepared by Frederick Southwick, M.D.
Professor of Medicine and Chief of Infectious Diseases
University of Florida College of Medicine
For more information see Infectious Diseases in 30 Days, McGraw-Hill, 2003, pg 411-419.