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.
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:
- WKOW Madison News Channel 27 published “Lyme disease cases rising in Wisconsin, how you can avoid infection” on May 3, 2023.
- WISC-TV Channel 3 in Madison published “Doctors warn of Lyme disease risks as tick season ramps up” on May 3, 2023.
- WMTV Channel 15 in Madison published “Lyme disease on the rise in Wisconsin, UW Health alerts” on May 3, 2023.
- WEAU Eau Claire News Channel 13 published “Lyme disease cases are on the rise in Wisconsin” on May 3, 2023.
- WQOW Eau Claire News Channel 18 published “Be careful of tick bites this summer as Lyme disease cases rise in Wisconsin” on May 3, 2023.
- Spectrum News 1 published “Is the tick you spot dangerous? A health expert weighs in on Lyme disease” on May 3, 2023.