Testing a Tick

Should I Get A Tick Tested?

There are differing views on the value of testing a tick once it has been removed. While the Center For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) takes a generally negative view of the practice, some organizations devoted to various aspects of Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses have championed tick testing.

Instead of taking a side in this debate, Indiana Lyme Connect (ILC) will seek to educate and support you by offering a link for information about a lab that tests ticks, along with some guidelines for viewing and using the results in a realistic way.

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Where Do I Get A Tick Tested?

Of the labs that test ticks for pathogens, the one that appears to offer the best variety of strains for the lowest price is Tick Report, a lab at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s College of Natural Sciences.

With a baseline Standard DNA package for just $50 that tests a blacklegged tick for four different strains of borrelia, and one strain each of babeosis, erchiliosis, and anaplasmosis (common tick-borne infections), Tick Report presents a rare good deal for Lyme-associated testing. And, you receive the results via email in 3 business days!

Tick Report is just one lab that tests ticks. ILC does not endorse one lab over another. Rather, we cite Tick Report as an example of a fairly wide range of pathogens tested for an inexpensive price. There are other labs in the United States that do tick testing for varying ranges of pathogens at different rates, including IGeneX, Accutix (formerly Imugen), and Connecticut Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Lab.

How Should I Use The Results?

There are a few things you should keep in mind, though, when deciding whether to have a removed tick tested.

The results from a tick test should be used as a signpost, rather than the last word on how you will move forward. While the lab turnaround time may be quick, as the CDC rightly points out, the symptoms of a tick-borne illness could show up before the test results come back.

Do not attach too much weight to the tick test results – regardless of whether they are positive or negative. Just because the tick that you actually found tests negative for pathogens, it does not mean any other undetected tick that might have bitten you at the same time is also disease-free. Infected ticks and clean ticks can live side-by-side in the same habitat. So, be vigilant, be aware of the early signs and symptoms of infection, and keep doing thorough tick checks, even if the tick you found tests negative.

On the flip side, even if a tick tests positive for a pathogen, there is a chance that it did not have the opportunity to transmit that illness to you. The jury is still out on how long it takes for a tick to transmit disease to a host once it is attached, so a positive tick test might not necessarily mean that you are infected.

The best use of positive ticks test results is in how they could inform your treatment should you start to present symptoms. Currently, the only somewhat reliable diagnosis of Lyme and its associated tick-borne illnesses is a clinical one (i.e. based on symptoms). The problem is that the symptoms of Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses can overlap with each other and mimic non-tick-borne illnesses – which means that an accurate clinical diagnosis is all that much more difficult.

However, positive tick test results could, at least, offer your doctor some rough guidance about which pathogens could be causing any odd symptoms that arise post-tick bite, and help him or her decide on treatment approaches that could be successful against your active infection.