Tick FAQ's

Ticks belong to a group of arthropods that are closely related to spiders. Hard ticks and soft ticks, which are differentiated by the hardness of their exoskeleton, are parasitic arthropods which feed on blood. All tick lifestages require a blood meal to grow (i.e. from nymph to adult). Both adult male and female ticks feed on blood.

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What do Ticks Look Like?

Most hard ticks are small (1mm – 10mm in length, depending on feeding status) and brown or black with some light colored markings. 

Ticks are not insects. They have 3-4 pairs of legs (larval ticks have 3 pairs, nymph and adult ticks have 4 pairs of legs), and have what looks like one body segment which is generally rounded like a sesame seed.

Here are some examples of common ticks that feed on humans:









Where are Ticks Found?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there 8 species of ticks that are of public health importance to humans in the United States and at least one can be found in every state. There are many other species that are threats to humans in other countries. Wildlife and domestic animals as well as humans can act as hosts for ticks, which means the ticks feed on them for a blood meal.

Ticks can be found where wildlife or animal hosts are present. Many different types of animals act as hosts for different species of ticks: deer, raccoons, opossums, dogs, cats, rodents (such as squirrels, chipmunks, rats, and mice), birds, and even lizards. Wooded areas, parks, grassy meadows, and even empty lots where these animals pass through or are all areas where ticks can be transferred to humans. Sometimes pets with ticks on them can bring them inside human dwellings.
What Kind of Diseases Can Ticks Cause?

Ticks can carry bacteria, viruses, and parasites that can infect humans and animals. Specific information on these diseases can be found on the CDC’s website.

Common tick diseases in Harris County include:

  • American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis): Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and tularemia
    • Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is a bacterial infection that will cause headache, fever, nausea, and a common rash which develops 2-4 days after the fever begins. This rash can appear as little red splotches or pinpoint dots on the body.
    • Tularemia is a bacterial infection which can cause fever, skin ulcers near the tick bite, and swelling of regional lymph nodes.
  • Blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis): Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis, babesiosis, Borrelia miyamotoi, and Powassan virus illness
    • Lyme disease is a bacterial infection which causes fever, headache, fatigue, and a characteristic bulls-eye skin rash called erythema migrans.
    • Anaplasmosis is a bacterial disease which causes fever, headache, chills, and muscle aches. o Ehrlichiosis is a bacterial disease where patients exhibit fever, headache, fatigue, and muscle aches. o Babesiosis is a parasitic disease where patients generally do not have any symptoms. Some people develop non-specific flu-like symptoms such as headache, fever, and body aches.
    • Borrelia miyamotoi is a bacterium which can cause fever, chills, headache, body and join pain, and fatigue.
    • Powassan encephalitis is caused by a flavivirus; patients exhibit fever, headache, vomiting, weakness, and potential long-term neurological problems.
  • Brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus): Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
  • Gulf coast tick (Amblyomma maculatum): Rickettsia parkeri rickettsiosis
    • Rickettsia parkeri rickettsiosis is a bacterial illness which can exhibit a dark scab at the tick bite, fever, headache, and rash.
  • Lone star tick (Amblyomma americanum): ehrlichiosis, Heartland virus, tularemia, and Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness (STARI)
    • Heartland virus can cause symptoms such as fever, headaches, muscle aches, and diarrhea.
    • STARI is a bacterial infection which can cause a rash very similar to the one associated with Lyme disease; other symptoms include fever, fatigue, headache, muscle, and joint pains.
Can I become Allergic to Meat from a Tick Bite?
Yes, allergic reactions to red (mammalian) meat have been associated with the bites of lone star ticks. The reaction has been associated with an allergy to the tick saliva.
How Can I Prevent Tick Bites?

Use EPA-approved arthropod repellents containing DEET, picaridin, or IR3535. You can also treat clothing such as socks, pants, and shoes with products containing permethrin. Additional repellent options are available at the EPA Website. Treat your domestic pets for ticks as recommended by your veterinarian. If you travel to any area where you might come into contact with ticks, check yourself immediately—especially under your arms, in and around your ears, behind your knees, between your legs, around the waist, and along your hairline and scalp. Shower quickly after going indoors after being outdoors.

What Should I Do If I Find a Tick?

If you find a tick on yourself, family member, or pet, remove the tick according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s tick removal guidelines listed above (or take the animal to a veterinarian):

  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 mouthparts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouthparts with tweezers. If you are unable to remove the mouthparts easily with 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 or soap and water. 
  4. Never crush a tick with your fingers. 

Avoid myth remedies such as suffocating the embedded (biting) tick in petroleum jelly, nail polish, or burning the tick to make it release its bite. These methods do not work and are not safe. The goal is to remove the tick as quickly and safely as possible. 

If you develop a rash or fever within several weeks of removing a tick, seek medical attention from your health care provider. Be sure to provide information about the recent tick bite and where you may have acquired the tick.

What Should I Do If I Qant My Tick Identified and Tested?

Please contact Harris County Public Health Mosquito and Vector Control Division (HCPH MVCD) to submit the tick for testing and identification. You can submit the tick using the online Vector Submission Form found on our website (www. hcphtx.org/mc) and either drop off the tick, mail it in, or request a pickup. Instructions can be found on our website or you can call HCPH MVCD at (713.440.4800) during regular business hours, Monday through Friday 8:00 am to 4:00 pm.

Tick specimens will not be accepted if:

  • Abdomen is missing
  • Tick is crushed in any way
  • Preserved in alcohol or any liquid solution