As we’re all eager to head into the local summertime woods and fields, it bears reminding that ticks can carry serious diseases.
A bill introduced April 30, and now being considered in the state Legislature, recognizes May as Lyme Disease Awareness Month.
A bite from an infected deer tick can transmit Lyme disease and also other diseases, which are becoming more common, according to a recent release from Public Health Madison & Dane County (PHMDC).
“We’ve all been educated that a tick bite results in a bullseye rash, but not everyone gets that kind of rash, and sometimes don’t even see a tick on their body,” says Amanda Kita-Yarbro, communicable disease epidemiologist for PHMDC.
“If you’re experiencing fever, rash, chills, headache, fatigue, muscle and joint aches, or swollen lymph nodes and have been spending time outdoors, it’s best to talk to your healthcare provider, even if you haven’t seen a tick on your body or a bullseye rash,” according to Kita-Yarbro.
Early symptoms of Lyme disease and other tickborne diseases like anaplasmosis can occur anywhere from 3 to 30 days after a bite from an infected tick. When treated with antibiotics in the early stages, recovery is usually rapid and complete.
PHMDC has seen an average of 135 Lyme disease cases per year over the last three years, and additionally sees about 10-15 cases of anaplasmosis each year.
If Lyme disease is left untreated, infection can spread to joints, the heart and the nervous system. Anaplasmosis, even in healthy people, can be serious and sometimes fatal if the correct treatment is not chosen.
In addition to watching for bullseye rashes, look for round or oval rashes that gradually expand, reaching up to 12 inches or more.
Preventing tick bites is the best defense from getting a tick-borne disease. Some suggestions:
• Avoid wooded and brushy areas with high grass and walk in the center of trails when hiking.
• Use repellents containing 20-30 percent DEET on both exposed skin and clothing, carefully following product instructions.
• Use products that contain permethrin on clothing, carefully following product instructions.
• For those looking for alternative repellents and pesticides, CDC’s website on natural tick repellents and pesticides.
• Shower or bathe as soon as possible after coming indoors.
• Tumble clothing you’ve worn on high heat in a dryer, to kill any ticks on clothing.
Additionally, while you may think of doing tick checks only after coming in from hikes or being in the woods, due to the increase in ticks in our area they should now make tick checks part of their daily routine, even if they’ve been in urban areas or their own backyards, the PHMDC says.
Ticks can be as small as a poppy seed or sesame seed. It’s important that ticks be removed completely, and as soon as possible.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Medical Entomology department now has the Wisconsin Tick ID service, a resource for tick identification.
To use this service, a person can fill out and submit the online tick identification form, including details and photos of the tick. They will receive an identification of the species, which will provide valuable information about how they might respond (e.g. go to the doctor or not).
The Entomology department has also launched a new tick app, with a quick tick ID guide, information about ticks and the diseases they transmit, and the ability to report daily tick encounters so that the department can develop better strategies to prevent tick bites and keep people healthier.
Summer is coming. Have fun. But be safe. Avoid getting bit. But if you do, know what to do.