Tick Paralysis


Tick paralysis is caused by the exposure to a neurotoxin released by tick salivary glands during a bite. The most common vectors are the American dog tick and the Rocky Mountain wood tick. Most common infection locations are the Pacific Northwest, Rocky Mountain states, and southeastern part of the United States.

Signs and Symptoms

Following tick attachment, signs and symptoms include ataxia and paralysis starting in the feet and legs, moving upward. Numbness and tingling may also occur. Unlike most tick-borne illnesses, fever and flu-like symptoms are rare. Reflexes may be reduced or absent. Tick paralysis becomes life threatening if the tick is not removed and paralysis ascends to the trunk. This can affect the respiratory muscles making it difficult to breath.


Thorough physical examination is necessary in the case of tick-paralysis. When a patient lives in a tick endemic area and presents with sudden-onset ataxia and ascending paralysis, that individual should be checked for ticks, particularly in locations such as the scalp, hairline, ear canals, or pubic region. A common diagnosis to be confused with tick paralysis is Guillain-Barré syndrome.