My recent adventures with tick-borne disease

Lyme disease? Anaplamosis? Both?

Zach Portman

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Note: I am not a medical doctor and this post is not intended as medical advice. If you think you may have a tick-borne disease, consult with a medical professional as soon as possible.

The tick

Lately I’ve been doing a lot of fieldwork surveying for bumblebees in eastern Minnesota and western Wisconsin near the St. Croix river. Unfortunately all of our sites are infested with ticks. While it’s not the worst I’ve seen, I’ve been picking ticks off of me essentially every day we’ve gone out. I’d been pretty good about thoroughly checking for ticks on myself, my clothes, and my gear, but apparently I didn’t do quite good enough.

I woke up one morning and discovered a tiny tick attached to my thigh. It was almost fully engorged, but even then it was still quite small. Given how tiny it is, it’s understandable that I missed it.

The tick was a deer tick nymph (Ixodes scapularis), and based on how engorged it was, it was likely attached for at least a couple days. I removed it and then stuck it in a vial in the freezer for safekeeping.

The engorged deer tick nymph that was attached to me with a US dime for scale.

Feeling a bit ill

Four days after finding the tick on me, I started feeling off. First, I felt weirdly dog-tired after a workday that was only moderately strenuous. My legs especially felt stiff and sore and like jelly. That night, I developed fever and chills and spent a miserable night trying to sleep.

In the morning, I felt terrible, with fever and chills, achy muscles, fatigue, swollen glands, and a headache. The site of the tick bite remained a small red dot. I did not have any respiratory symptoms (no runny nose, no cough, no sore throat) and I tested negative for COVID-19 on two rapid tests.

Because I had found a tick on me, I was very aware that these flu-like symptoms could be from a tick-borne illness. In this sense I’m quite lucky — according to the CDC, many people who are infected with tick-borne diseases are never aware that they were bitten by a tick, which can make proper diagnosis much more difficult.

With that in mind, I went to urgent care that day to get it checked out. At urgent care, I tested negative for…

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Zach Portman

I am scientist who studies bees. My research covers the identification, biology, evolution, and conservation of native bees.