Tick-borne Illnesses



There are many species of ticks capable of transmitting a variety of bacterial, viral, and parasitic illnesses to humans and other mammals. You can reduce your risk of being infected with a tick-borne illness by using insect repellent and wearing protective clothing to prevent ticks from making you their next meal. Remember to check yourself, other family members, and pets for ticks after recreating outdoors. Early recognition and treatment of tick-borne infections significantly decreases the risk of serious complications.

For more information about ticks, please visit the CDC webpage: https://www.cdc.gov/ticks

The most common symptoms of tick-borne infections include fever and chills, aches and pains, rash, and fever of varying degrees. Although most tick-borne illnesses can be treated with antibiotics, they can be quite difficult to diagnose. Timely and proper removal of attached ticks can reduce the likelihood of a tick transmitting a tick-borne illness. See your doctor immediately if you have been bitten by a tick and if you experience any of the symptoms listed above.

How to properly remove an attached tick:

  1. Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin's surface as possible.
  2. Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don't twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers. If you are unable to remove the mouth easily with clean tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal.
  3. After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water.

AVOID folklore remedies such as “painting” the tick with nail polish or petroleum jelly, or using heat to make the tick detach from the skin. These methods are not recommended and may cause the tick to burrow deeper into the skin.

removing tick exampleremoving tick example 2


Now that you have removed the tick, should you get it tested? Testing ticks is not recommended for several reasons. First of all, the laboratories that conduct tick testing are not required to have the same standards of quality as those used by clinical laboratories. Additionally, positive results for a tick does not mean that disease was transmitted. Not every bite results in disease being transmitted. Finally, negative results could lead to false assurance; an individual may have been bitten by a different tick that was infected. If an individual has been infected, symptoms will most likely develop before the results of the tick test are available. If symptoms occur, individuals should seek medical care. For more information please visit this webpage https://www.cdc.gov/lyme/removal/index.html.


Be Tick Aware 


Tick-borne illnesses in Montana

Disease/causal organism Incidence in Montana Symptoms Tick vectors
Rocky Mountain spotted fever/rickettsiosis
(a bacterium,
Rickettsia rickettsii)
Rare, much more common in some areas along the Atlantic coast. About 8 cases per year, on average, are reported in Montana. Initially, a general feeling of malaise and/or aches. A characteristic rash develops, starting on the wrists and ankles and later spreading to the rest of the body, including palms and the soles of feet. High fever is associated with infections. Rocky Mountain wood tick, American dog tick.
(a bacterium,
Rare; only 5 cases on average are reported in Montana. Can be widespread in wild animals, particularly rabbits. Sudden high fever, general weakness and swelling/pain of the lymph nodes. Rocky Mountain wood tick, American dog tick. Most human infections occur from contact with the blood of infected animals (e.g., while skinning rabbits).
Colorado tick fever/biphasic fever
(a virus)
Rare; only 4 cases, on average, are reported in Montana. Generally flu-like, including aching, fever, chills and fatigue. This typically lasts for 1 to 3 days. More severe complications sometimes develop. Rocky Mountain wood tick, American dog tick.
Tick-borne relapsing fever/borreliosis
(a bacterium,
Borrelia hermsii)
Very rare. Rapidly developing fever 3 to 10 days after initial infection. Fever declines after about 4 days but may recur in multiple cycles. Soft ticks of the genus Ornithodoros that are associated with rodents (e.g., chipmunks, pine squirrels). Human infections typically occur when camping in rustic cabins inhabited by infected rodents.
Lyme disease (a bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi) Most common tickborne illness in Montana residents even though all cases acquired disease out of state. Thirteen cases on average.  Most US cases are from the northeastern, mid-Atlantic and north-central US.  Symptoms that occur 3 – 30 days after tick bite include fever, chills, headache, fatigue, muscle and joint aches. Rash occurs in 70% - 80% of infected cases. It is 12 inches or more and may be located on any area of the body. Later signs and symptoms severe headaches and neck stiffness, arthritis with joint swelling, and facial or Bell ’s palsy. Blacklegged tick or deer tick. Not found in Montana. Most people infected by immature ticks that are less than 2mm in size.

***Table revised from W.S. Cranshaw and F.B. Peairs. Available at: https://extension.colostate.edu/docs/pubs/insect/05593.pdf


Contact Us

Communicable Disease Epidemiology Program
Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services
Phone: (406) 444-0273