Warm weather has arrived, which means it’s time for yard work and outdoor activities. Spring is the beginning of peak tick season, and in the past few years, the number of deer ticks in the area have increased significantly. A bite from an infected deer tick can transmit Lyme disease and also other diseases, which are becoming more common.
“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 Public Health Madison & Dane County (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 of the Public Health-Madison and Dane County (PHMDC). These early symptoms of Lyme disease and other tickborne diseases like anaplasmosis, which can occur anywhere from 3 to 30 days after a bite from an infected tick. When treated with antibiotics in the early stages of symptoms, 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.
For Lyme disease that 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, people can 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.
• 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.
People may think of doing tick checks only after coming in from hikes or being in the woods, but 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. They should do a full-body tick check using a mirror before showering or bathing after they’ve been outdoors. Remember that 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.
If a tick is found on the body, it is important to distinguish if the species is associated with disease.
For this reason, the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Medical Entomology department 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 today, 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.
Dogs are very susceptible to tick bites and the diseases they cause. Prevention is the best defense for them as well. Tick preventive products should be used on dogs regularly and tick checks should be done daily. If a tick comes into the house on a dog it could bite another pet or person living in the house.