African Tick Bite Fever

There are many types of ticks in different parts of the world, carrying different types of rickettsial bacteria, which may cause various illnesses, some of which maybe severe and debilitating. This article is only dealing with African tick bite fever.

What Is Tick Bite Fever?

African tick bite fever is a bacterial infection transmitted by ticks, as the name suggests. The organism that causes tick bite fever belongs to the Rickettsial family of bacteria.

How Do You Get African Tick Bite Fever?

  • When an infected tick bites a human, the Rickettsial bacteria are transmitted in the saliva. In Africa it will either be R.conorii or R. africae bacteria. Not all ticks carry Rickettsial bacteria.
  • Occasionally, if you squash an infected tick that you find on yourself, the tick 'contents' which may contain the Rickettsial bacteria, can infect you by getting into an existing open skin abrasion or cut.

African Tick
This tick (Amblyomma variegatum) is commonly found throughout West, Central and East Africa

African Tick
This tick (Amblyomma hebraeum) is commonly found throughout South Africa

African Tick Bite Fever Symptoms

  • The incubation period (the period between being infected and displaying symptoms) is about five to seven days.
  • Symptoms of tick bite infection may include fever, headache, malaise and a skin rash of varying severity.
  • There is often an eschar at the site of the tick bite. This is a black mark that looks like a small ulcer (2-5mm in diameter) with a black centre or scab.
  • Severity of illness can vary considerably.
  • As the first symptoms can be similar to malaria (and other tropical diseases) it is important to get a blood test done to eliminate malaria, should you have hunted in a malarial area.
African Tick Eschar
Tick Eschar

Summary For African Travellers and Hunters

  • Hunters walking through the African bush are almost always going to pick up some ticks. These ticks are often noticed once they have attached to your body. You must get into the habit of examining yourself carefully when in the shower after returning from your hunt day, using a hand mirror as necessary. Ticks can get into and bite in the most unlikely places on your person - under the arms, in and around the ears, inside belly button, back of knees, in and around the hair, between the legs and around the waist.
  • More on tick repellents and removal
  • If you have a mild infection and symptoms, you can just let it run its course without any antibiotic treatment.
  • If the infection is more severe and causes you discomfort, it can be easily treated with antibiotics such as doxycycline or tetracycline. If you are on a longer hunt of more than 7 days, it is a good idea to bring a course of these antibiotics with you, as ATF could occur during the hunt as well as when you are home.
  • You'll never be able to 100% protect yourself agains ticks and African tick bite fever but some simple, common sense measures will reduce the risk. Wearing insect repellents on your skin, permethrin impregnated clothing, long trousers tucked into your boots with gaiters over the top and long sleeve shirts, will all help.
  • There is no vaccine against tick bite fever, and taking prophylactic antibiotics has never been shown to be effective or necessary.

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Page Updated: Mar 2024

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