Lone star ticks may transmit diseases that could potentially be life threatening. Some diseases include ehrlichiosis, STARI, and tularemia, among others. Get immediate medical attention if you’ve been bitten.

The lone star tick (Amblyomma americanum) is a disease-spreading arachnid. Like other arachnids — such as scorpions, spiders, and mites — adult lone star ticks have four pairs of legs and no antennae.

Despite its prevalence in Connecticut and other states with a high incidence of Lyme disease, the lone star tick does not transmit Lyme disease. It is not clear whether the lone star tick transmits Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

In this article, we’ll go over the conditions and symptoms that lone star tick bites transmit and how to identify the ticks themselves.

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How to spot a lone star tick

Lone star ticks get their name from the large, white, star-shaped dot located on the back of young adult females. Males do not have the star-shaped dot.

Adult females and males are both reddish brown in color. Male ticks have a geometric black pattern on their backs.

When they have fed and become engorged, lone star ticks turn greyish brown.

The larvae and nymphs of both sexes are a translucent yellow.

Lone star ticks have oval to roundish bodies.

Female ticks range in size from 1/8 of an inch when unengorged to 1/2 inch when fully engorged. Male ticks are smaller.

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Lone star ticks are aggressive biters that feed on prey throughout their entire lifespan. Larvae, nymphs, and adult ticks bite humans, pets, livestock, and wild outdoor animals. Even though they bite, larvae don’t carry disease.

Tick saliva can irritate your skin, but not every bite transmits disease-causing bacteria or viruses.

Redness and discomfort at the site of a lone star tick bite require medical attention. You can have these symptoms without having contracted an illness.

Diseases spread by lone star ticks include:

Southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI)

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the bacteria that causes STARI remains unidentified.

STARI causes a round rash within 7 days. This rash looks similar to the bull’s-eye rash associated with Lyme disease. The rash is not always accompanied by other symptoms.

STARI symptoms may include:

  • bull’s-eye rash ranging in size from 6 to 10 centimeters
  • headache
  • fever
  • muscle or joint pain
  • fatigue


Ehrlichiosis is an umbrella term for multiple diseases caused by Ehrlichia chaffeensis, E. ewingii, and E. muris eauclairensis bacteria. Infected ticks transmit these bacteria to humans through bites.

Ehrlichiosis symptoms include:

  • headache
  • chills
  • fever
  • muscle aches
  • stomachache
  • nausea and vomiting


Tularemia is a rare, potentially fatal disease with several subtypes. Tularemia is caused by the Francisella tularensis bacteria. The bacteria’s point of entry determines which subtype you have.

Tularemia is also known as rabbit fever or deer fly fever. Transmission to humans occurs through tick bites, mosquito bites, or contact with infected animals or birds. Inhaling the bacteria or drinking contaminated water can also cause transmission.

Symptoms of this condition vary based on the subtype you have. Symptoms can start anywhere from 1 to 21 days after infection, but usually within 3 to 5 days, according to the CDC.

Tick bites transmit Francisella tularensis through the skin. This entry point causes ulceroglandular tularemia, the most common form of this condition, per 2019 research.

Symptoms of ulceroglandular tularemia include:

Heartland virus

The Heartland virus is a potentially fatal virus that is part of the genus Bandavirus. Lone star tick bites can transmit the Heartland virus to humans and animals. It has been found in deer, coyotes, raccoons, and moose.

The first reported cases of the Heartland virus were in Missouri in 2009. Since then, there have been cases in 11 states across the South and Midwest.

Symptoms occur within 2 weeks of transmission. In some instances, they may be severe enough to require hospitalization.

Symptoms include:

  • joint pain
  • high fever
  • nausea
  • diarrhea
  • bruising
  • fatigue
  • decreased appetite

Diagnostic testing may identify clinical symptoms including:

Bourbon virus disease

The Bourbon virus is a relatively new, potentially fatal disease. It is part of the genus Thogotovirus.

The Bourbon virus is named for Bourbon County, Kansas, where it was first discovered. Lone star ticks and other ticks may transmit this virus.

As of this date, medical professionals have identified a small number of Bourbon virus cases in several Midwestern and Southern states. Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma seem to be the states where infection is most common, according to 2022 research.

Symptoms may include:

  • fever
  • fatigue
  • rash
  • body aches
  • headache
  • nausea
  • vomiting

If you see a lone star tick on your skin, remove it immediately (follow these steps from the CDC) with a pointed, fine-tipped tweezer. Try to get the entire tick out of your skin. Don’t twist or squeeze the tick’s body, as this may break off parts of its mouth.

Don’t use heat or smothering ointments to kill or remove the tick. Don’t try to scrape it off with your fingers.

After removal, wash the bitten area with soap and water. Dispose of the tick by flushing it down the toilet. If you’re not sure what type of tick it is, you may wish to take a picture of it first.

Some commercial labs offer tick testing. Instead of disposing of the tick, you send it to a lab to see if it has a specific bacteria or virus. But the CDC does not recommend this practice.

Let a healthcare professional know you were bitten by a lone star tick. Given the number of diseases transmitted through tick bites, a doctor may prescribe oral antibiotics, even if you don’t have symptoms.

If you see a rash, get a fever, or have any symptoms that may be caused by a tick bite, see a healthcare professional immediately. The diseases that ticks carry can become dangerous or severe if left untreated.

Most people respond well to antibiotics and other treatments.

How to avoid tick bites

Of course, prevention is the best cure. Try to avoid tick bites by wearing tick repellent when you’re in woody or grassy areas. It’s also helpful to wear a hat, a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, and high socks.

You can find lone star ticks in dense, woody regions across a wide swath of the eastern United States. It is native to many southeastern and eastern states.

As temperatures have risen, the lone star tick’s territory has expanded north, throughout New England. Lone star ticks have been found as far north as Maine.

Ticks carry bacteria and viruses in their saliva. Tick saliva often contains an anesthetic that masks the sensation of being bitten, according to 2017 research. That’s why many tick bites go undetected.

Ticks transmit pathogens while feeding on their host. These pathogens cause disease in humans, birds, and animals.

Ticks find hosts by detecting the scent of breath or sweat. Some ticks also sense body heat.

Once a tick lands on your skin, it may bite immediately or look for an area to feed upon. Ticks prepare to feed by grasping and cutting the skin.

They then insert a feeding tube into the tiny cut they’ve made. The feeding tube may be barbed, to keep it in place under the skin. Some ticks secrete a goo-like substance that adheres to your skin, holding them firmly in place.

Ticks feed by sucking blood. After they’ve adhered themselves to your skin, they can do this for several days. Once the tick is fully engorged with blood, it drops off on its own.

If a tick is carrying a pathogen, you may get sick regardless of whether the tick has dropped off or if you’ve manually removed it.

How long it takes for a tick to be attached before it transmits bacteria or a virus to you depends on the disease. According to experts, it can be as little as 4 hours for tularemia or as long as 36 hours for STARI.

How long after a lone star tick bite do symptoms appear?

Lone star ticks have saliva that can irritate and inflame your skin. If a tick bites you, you may notice those symptoms at the bite site immediately.

Other symptoms may become apparent anywhere from 3 days to 3 weeks after transmission, based on the bacteria or virus the tick was carrying. Usually, symptoms start to occur within 3 to 5 days.

Can a lone star tick bite cause you to be allergic to red meat?

Lone star tick bites can cause alpha-gal syndrome, a food allergy to red meat that comes from mammals. Such meat includes beef, pork, lamb, and other animal flesh products.

Exposure to alpha-gal, a sugar molecule found in tick saliva, triggers this allergy, according to 2021 research.

Many products contain alpha-gal. Some people with alpha-gal syndrome may also be sensitive to cow’s milk, gelatin, or collagen.

Can my dog transmit diseases from a tick bite to me?

Not usually. Infected animals can transmit tularemia to humans, but most tick-borne illnesses cannot be transmitted this way.

However, your dog can bring infected ticks into your home on its fur. Keeping your dog safe from tick bites protects you and your entire household from tick-borne pathogens. Talk with your dog’s veterinarian to determine what type of tick protection to use.

Lone star ticks are found throughout the eastern United States. They transmit a variety of bacterial and viral infections.

Some diseases that lone star ticks transmit can be serious or fatal. Many tick-borne illnesses respond well to antibiotics and other treatments.

If you see a tick on your skin or display symptoms of a tick-borne illness, let a healthcare professional know right away.