There’s no denying that spending time in nature can be great for your physical, mental, and spiritual health. But there can also be a hidden danger lurking in the peaceful outdoors – a shapeshifting pathogen that can sneak its way into your body and evade your immune system.
The stealthy intruder I’m referring to is a microscopic bacteria that causes an illness known as tick-borne relapsing fever.
Today we’re going to dive into exactly what tick-borne relapsing fever is, how it’s transmitted, and the short and long-term effects a serious infection can cause. And most importantly we’ll cover how you can protect yourself from tick-borne relapsing fever and how to recover if you’ve caught this tricky bug.
What Is Tick-Borne Relapsing Fever?
Tick-borne relapsing fever – also known as TBRF – is an infection caused by a bacterial species known as borrelia. There are three unique strains of borrelia that cause TBRF, which are:1
- Borrelia hermsii
- Borrelia parkeri
- Borrelia turicatae
These bacterial cells can move through and between your vascular endothelial cells and hide out in tissues like your liver, bone marrow, and central nervous system. But what makes these microorganisms so unique is their ability to undergo a process known as antigenic variation. Antigenic variation is a unique process that allows these bacteria to essentially rearrange their own DNA and periodically change the proteins that are present on their outer surface.2 This is the bacteria’s way of changing disguises to evade your immune system.
Borrelia’s shapeshifting abilities paired with their ability to “hideout” in certain tissues, allows these sneaky bacteria to evade detection by your immune system and cause a cycle of relapsing symptoms.
Now, let’s take a look at exactly what these relapsing symptoms are.
What Are Tick-Borne Relapsing Fever Symptoms?
One of the telltale signs of tick-borne relapsing fever is recurring episodes of a high fever lasting several days. But tick-borne relapsing fever is also accompanied by a range of less specific symptoms that can include:3
- Headaches and sensitivity to light
- Fatigue and malaise
- Muscle and joint pain
- Abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea
- Dry cough
In rare cases, TBRF can also lead to more serious complications such as:3
- Acute respiratory distress
- Permanent nerve damage resulting in hearing or vision loss
If you’re infected with tick-borne relapsing fever, you may experience any number of symptoms in between episodes of fever, or you may feel nearly normal. Now let’s take a look at how this tricky bacteria is transmitted.
How Exactly Is Tick-Borne Relapsing Fever (TBRF) Transmitted?
Tick-borne relapsing fever is transmitted to humans almost exclusively through the bite of what’s known as “soft ticks.” Soft ticks are different from the more commonly known “hard ticks” that are well known to spread other infectious diseases like Lyme disease. Soft ticks differ from hard ticks in two primary ways:4
- Soft tick bites are brief, typically only lasting about half an hour or less before they drop off. Because their bites are often painless, detecting these ticks and their bites can be particularly challenging.
- Soft ticks don’t hang out in tall grass and brush waiting for their next meal to pass by. Instead, these ticks are known to live in rodent burrows and nests – feeding on rodents as they need.
Once a soft tick feeds on a rodent infected with a borrelia strain, the tick remains infected for the rest of its life – which can be up to 10 years. The majority of tick-borne relapsing fever cases occur in the western part of the United States – typically in more mountainous regions. Most people come into contact with an infected tick when sleeping in a cabin or home that’s infested with mice or other rodents.
Tick-Borne Relapsing Fever Prevention
Ticks are known to carry much more than just tick-borne relapsing fever. Ticks can carry several diseases that can infect humans including Lyme disease, Bartonella, and babesia to name a few. So preventing tick bites should certainly be a priority if you’re planning on spending any time out in nature.
Use the following steps to protect yourself and prevent bites from both “soft” and “hard” ticks:5
- Closely inspect any cabins or homes you’re sleeping in for signs of rodent infestation. If you notice nests or droppings, avoid sleeping there.
- If you’re concerned your own home or cabin may have a rodent problem, contact a professional pest control professional immediately.
- Rodent-proof your home or anywhere you might be sleeping by sealing up any cracks or crevices.
- Use insect repellent to keep ticks and other insects at bay.
- Wear long sleeves and pants to keep skin from being exposed.
- Inspect clothing and hair for evidence of ticks.
While prevention can go a long way, it’s still possible to come into contact with an infected tick. So what are your treatment options if you do contract tick-borne relapsing fever?
Tick-Borne Relapsing Fever Treatment Options
In some cases of tick-borne relapsing fever, the immune system is able to target and eliminate borrelia bacteria on its own. But oftentimes, treating tick-borne relapsing fever requires the use of antibiotics to fully eradicate these shapeshifting bacteria. There’s not a specific treatment guideline for tick-borne relapsing fever, but the bacteria have been found to respond well to several different antibiotics including:6
Because ticks are well known to carry a number of infectious diseases – some not so easily addressed as tick-borne relapsing fever – I highly recommend seeking out the guidance of an experienced Functional and Integrative Medicine Practitioner if you’ve been diagnosed with TBRF.
They will help you not only come up with a comprehensive and customized plan to treat the root cause of your symptoms but also help you develop a game plan to get your immune system back in tip-top shape. This will help you fully recover from tick-borne relapsing fever.
Recovering From Tick-Borne Relapsing Fever
Exposure to an infectious agent like tick-borne relapsing fever can send your immune system into overdrive. And if the bacterial infection isn’t entirely eliminated, or your immune system isn’t able to return to homeostasis, it can send your immune system into a tailspin. Infections have been identified as triggers for conditions like mast cell activation syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome, and autoimmunity.
So if you’ve been exposed to tick-borne relapsing fever, it’s important to ensure your immune system comes back down to its resting baseline state. To help your immune system bounce back, here’s what I recommend:
- Prioritize rest: Your immune system requires copious amounts of energy – particularly when it’s been fighting off an infection. Catching up on sleep will help restore your immune system’s depleted energy. Focus on getting at least 7-8 hours of high-quality sleep each night. You can even take an all-natural sleep aid like LipoCalm or Dream Powder to help you drift off to sleep.
- Load up on immune-boosting nutrients: Your immune system needs many different vitamins, minerals, and nutrients to perform at full capacity. Loading up on a healthy anti-oxidant rich diet can help give your immune system the fuel it needs. And to fill in any nutritional gaps, I recommend taking immune-boosting supplements like Vitamin D, Vitamin C, and Glutathione. Click here to learn about some of my other favorite immune-boosting supplements.
- Show your gut some love: Your gut plays a key role in how your immune system communicates and functions. If your gut is unhealthy, you can all but guarantee your immune system isn’t functioning at 100%. Eating a healthy diet and taking gut-healthy supplements like collagen and a daily probiotic is a great way to show your gut some love.
Keeping your immune system running at full force is your best defense against potentially harmful microbes like borrelia and the potential problems they can leave in their aftermath.
When It Comes to Your Health, You Are in the Driver’s Seat
Tick-borne relapsing fever and other infectious microorganisms can have serious implications for your health – both in the short and long term. That’s why keeping your well-being and the health of your immune system at the top of your priority list is so important. The day-to-day choices you make about how you eat, move, sleep, and think are your most powerful weapons when it comes to defending and preserving your health and longevity.
And the good news is when it comes to your health, you are in the driver’s seat. You have the power to stay informed and make healthy choices that bolster your health and well-being. That’s why I’m dedicated to bringing you the most up-to-date and easy to understand information – to empower you to create vibrant health for years to come.
So if you enjoyed this article, head over to my blog – it’s full of information and resources to help you take charge of your health. And if you want to take it even deeper, you can sign up for my newsletter to get my very best content delivered straight to your inbox. All you have to do is enter your name and email address in the form below.
Now it’s time to hear from you. Were you surprised to learn about the effects of tick-borne relapsing fever? What steps are you taking to prioritize your immune health? Leave your questions and thoughts in the comments below!
- Tick-Borne Relapsing Fever: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment (webmd.com)
- Tick-Borne Relapsing Fever (nih.gov)
- Clinicians | Tick-borne Relapsing Fever (TBRF) | CDC
- Transmission | Tick-borne Relapsing Fever (TBRF) | CDC
- Prevention | Tick-borne Relapsing Fever (TBRF) | CDC
- Clinicians | Tick-borne Relapsing Fever (TBRF) | CDC
* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The product mentioned in this article are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information in this article is not intended to replace any recommendations or relationship with your physician. Please review references sited at end of article for scientific support of any claims made.