Wood Ticks and Deer Ticks: Which Causes Lyme Disease?

As Prevention reminds us, tick season is officially upon us! That’s right, these little pests enjoy warm and humid weather. So even while we’re still social-distancing, ticks are getting ready to show off their summer bodies. But getting bitten exposes you to potential diseases, from Lyme disease and babesiosis to Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Take a look at this overview of the two most common ticks to see which one exposes you to which conditions.

Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is caused by Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria, transmitted through infected tick bites. Ticks can bite and attach to the body in multiple places. However, they tend to like darker, more secluded areas like the armpits or the groin. Generally, a tick must be attached for 36-48 hours before Lyme disease transmission.

Symptoms of Lyme disease worsen over time. Initial symptoms appear anywhere from 3-30 days post-infection. These include fever and chills, fatigue, joint and muscle pain, headache, swollen lymph nodes, and an erythema migrans rash. Not every person will get this rash, but about 80% do. It has a “bulls-eye” appearance, with a distinct inner circle (the bite).

If untreated for longer, Lyme disease can result in nerve pain, brain and spinal cord inflammation, heart palpitations, dizziness, body rashes, severe headaches, facial palsy, joint swelling, and muscle, joint, and bone pain. However, it can be treated with antibiotics. Learn more about Lyme disease.

Differentiating During Tick Season

The CDC notes that reported cases of tick-borne illnesses have rapidly climbed over the past few years. As a result, it is important to understand the differences between the ticks so you can best pursue a treatment plan following a bite.

Deer Tick

Deer ticks are also commonly known as blacklegged ticks because of their (surprise!) black legs. These tiny, hard ticks also have a reddish-orange body and black scutum. They are extremely small and much harder to notice than other ticks.

So if you’ve been outside and suddenly notice that you have a little poppyseed on your arm, it may be time to take a closer look.

Deer tick causes Lyme disease
Deer Tick. Sourced from PeakPX.

Deer ticks are commonly found along the east coast. However, they can also be found in North and South Dakota, Texas, and Colorado. They usually begin biting during winter or early spring.

Deer ticks host a variety of bacteria and diseases. Yes, deer ticks are often known for spreading Lyme disease! They feed on infected hosts and then spread the condition elsewhere. You are more likely to get Lyme disease from an adult tick, as these ticks have fed two more times than larvae. Other conditions spread by deer ticks include babesiosis, anaplasmosis, and Powassan virus.

If bitten, follow CDC recommendations on tick removal. Next, put the tick in a bag or container, then freeze it. If you develop any symptoms of Lyme disease, you can bring the tick with you to your doctor.

Wood Tick

Wood ticks are commonly known as American dog ticks. They usually have dark brown bodies with either a gray pattern or white scutum. They are larger in size than deer ticks. Generally, wood ticks are found in California and other areas east of the Rocky Mountains.

Unlike deer ticks, wood ticks do not spread Lyme disease. However, they do spread Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia. These conditions cause muscle pain and stiffness, stomach and headaches, fever, chills, and an occasional rash.

If bitten by a wood tick, perform the same steps as explained for deer ticks. Then monitor your condition.


Jessica Lynn

Jessica Lynn

Jessica Lynn has an educational background in writing and marketing. She firmly believes in the power of writing in amplifying voices, and looks forward to doing so for the rare disease community.

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