May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month: Gregory DeMuri offers expert advice for news outlets across the state

Gregory DeMuri, MD

With May’s warmth and rain, Wisconsin grows green and lush with grasses and budding shrubs. May also brings new generations of ticks, familiar brown dog ticks and less familiar but far more dangerous blacklegged ticks, also known as deer ticks. Through their mouth parts they spread the bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi, that infects people (as well as dogs and cats) with Lyme disease.

Recently, Gregory DeMuri, MD, professor, Division of Infectious Diseases, shared information and advice in a UW Health news release promoting Lyme Disease Awareness Month.

In the last 15 years, cases of Lyme disease have more than doubled in Wisconsin, with nearly 5,000 cases reported in 2021. DeMuri said that public awareness, data collection, and climate change are all factors that contribute to the steep rise in cases. Wisconsin’s terrain is perfect for ticks. DeMuri added, “We are having warmer winters and ticks are surviving better.”

It’s important to know how to identify a blacklegged tick. They live in yards, grasslands, wooded areas, and anywhere that is also habitat for white-footed mice, also called deer mice — the species that is the bacteria’s reservoir— and other small mammals and deer. DeMuri noted that that includes most of Wisconsin. “Ticks are now as likely to be found in parks and backyards as they are in northern woods,” he said. “Be aware and be prepared.”

Lyme disease presents with flu-like symptoms and a red bull’s-eye shaped rash. It is easily treated with antibiotics when detected early. If not treated, it can cause severe headaches, neck stiffness, joint pain, and even brain and heart impairment.

To avoid tick bites, wear appropriate clothing, such as light-colored pants with bottoms secured — ticks can crawl up pants legs. Use insect repellents such as DEET and picaridin-based formulas for the skin. Permethrin spray can be used on clothing. (A caution: permethrin can be toxic to cats). After outings in grassy or wooded areas, conduct a thorough body check, including the ears, feet, hair, and swimsuit areas. Be sure to check pets, too. Dogs especially can carry ticks into the house.

The UW Health news release “Lyme disease cases on the rise in Wisconsin” was published on May 3, 2023, and was picked up by news venues across the state: