STARI or Lyme?

Lone star tick a concern, but not for Lyme disease

Many people, even health care providers, can be confused about whether the lone star tick causes Lyme disease. It does not. Patients bitten by lone star ticks will occasionally develop a circular rash similar to the rash of early Lyme disease. The cause of this rash has not been determined; however, studies have shown that the rash is not caused by Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium that causes Lyme disease.

This condition has been named southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI). The rash may sometimes be accompanied by fatigue, headache, fever, and muscle pains. In the cases of STARI studied to date, the rash and accompanying symptoms have resolved following treatment with an oral antibiotic (doxycycline), but it is unknown whether this medication speeds recovery. STARI has not been linked to arthritis, neurologic disease, or chronic symptoms. Researchers once hypothesized that STARI was caused by the spirochete, Borrelia lonestari, however further research did not support this ideaExternal. The cause of STARI remains unknown.

Lone star ticks; Adult female, Adult male, Nymph, and Larva as compared against a portion of a United States DIME coin to demonstrate how small each one is.

Lone star ticks have not been shown to transmit Borrelia burgdorferi, the cause of Lyme disease. In fact, their saliva has been shown to kill Borrelia (Ledin et al., 2005, Zeidner et al., 2009).

The lone star tick, Amblyomma americanum, is found throughout the eastern, southeastern and south-central states. The distribution, range and abundance of the lone star tick have increased over the past 20-30 years, and lone star ticks have been recorded in large numbers as far north as Maine and as far west as central Texas and Oklahoma. All three life stages (larva, nymph, adult) of the lone star tick will feed on humans, and may be quite aggressive. Lone star ticks will also feed readily on other animals, including dogs and cats, and may be brought into the home on pets. The saliva from lone star ticks can be irritating; redness and discomfort at a bite site does not necessarily indicate an infection.

People should monitor their health closely after any tick bite, and should consult their physician if they experience a rash, fever, headache, joint or muscle pains, or swollen lymph nodes within 30 days of a tick bite. These can be signs of a number of tickborne diseases.

Tick-borne illness may be prevented by avoiding tick habitat (dense woods and brushy areas), using insect repellents containing DEET or permethrin, wearing long pants and socks, and performing tick checks and promptly removing ticks after outdoor activity. Additional prevention tips are available.

Study results: Distinctions between STARI and Lyme disease symptoms

In a study that compared physical findings from STARI patients in Missouri with Lyme disease patients in New York (Wormser et al, 2005), several key differences were noted: