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Tickborne Diseases

Tickborne Diseases can be passed to humans by the bite of infected ticks. 

Ticks are relatives of spiders that feed on the blood of mammals, birds, and reptiles. The most common ticks in Massachusetts include deer ticks (blacklegged ticks) and dog ticks. Each can spread different disease-causing germs through bites. Ticks exist in three stages: larva, nymph and adult. Ticks come in different sizes, so checking carefully for ticks on your body is important. Young deer ticks (nymphs) are the size of a poppy seed. Adult dog ticks are about the size of a watermelon seed. Both of these bite humans and can make them sick.

The basics

Where are ticks found?

Ticks are generally found in brushy, wooded, or grassy areas. Ticks do not fly, jump, or drop from trees or high bushes. They attach to animals or people that come into direct contact with them and climb upwards.

What diseases can ticks spread?   

Ticks in Massachusetts can spread:

  • Lyme disease
  • babesiosis
  • anaplasmosis
  • tularemia
  • Rocky Mountain spotted fever
  • Powassan encephalitis

All but Lyme disease are rare in Boston. In Massachusetts, all of these infections occur most frequently on Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket.


What should I do if I find a tick on myself or my pet?

  • Carefully remove the tick as soon as possible.
  • Use fine point tweezers to grip the tick as close to the skin as possible.
  • Pull the tick straight outward with steady, gentle pressure. Do not squeeze or twist the tick.
  • Do not apply kerosene, petroleum jelly, nail polish, or a hot match tip to remove the tick.
  • You may want to save the tick for identification. Notify your health care provider if you have a deer tick bite or if you develop a rash or other signs of illness following a tick bite.


How can I prevent tick borne disease?

The best way to prevent tick borne disease is to check yourself and your children after being in an area where ticks likely are. Their favorite places are on the legs, in the groin, in the armpits, along the hairline, and in or behind the ears. Deer ticks are very small, but look for new “freckles”.

Other precautions include:

  • Wear long sleeved shirts and long pants and tuck your pant legs into your socks. 
  • Light colored clothes will help you spot the ticks on your clothes before they reach your skin.
  • Stay to the middle of paths when in a heavily wooded area.
  • Exam pets for ticks.
  • Use insect repellants containing DEET on exposed skin. Read labels carefully. Use products with no more than 30% DEET. Do not use insect repellents on infants. Wash skin with soap and water after returning indoors.
  • Permethrin may be applied to items such as clothing to repel ticks. Read the product carefully and follow directions for use. Do not apply directly on your skin.
  • There are other insect repellents approved by the EPA for ticks. For more information, visit the EPA.
  • Talk to your veterinarian about the best ways to protect your pets from ticks.
  • Know the symptoms of tick borne diseases and see a health care provider if you get any symptoms.
  • Not all ticks carry disease, and a tick bite does not mean that you will always get a disease. The longer a tick stays attached, the more likely they are to transmit an illness.

Click here for more information on ticks from the CDC.

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