Warm spring weather will mean more blacklegged tick activity, which could start earlier due to a milder winter. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources officials are urging people to take precautions now against tick bites when spending time outdoors.
May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month.
In Wisconsin, infected blacklegged ticks (also known as deer ticks) can carry the bacteria that cause Lyme disease and other tickborne diseases, and these diseases are increasing, according to Dr. Henry Anderson, State Health Officer.
In 2011, there was a preliminary report of 4,123 confirmed and probable cases of tickborne diseases compared with 4,073 cases in 2010.
In Michigan, the first official reported human case of Lyme disease was in 1985. Cases have now been reported in both the upper and lower peninsula and in most of Michigan's 83 counties. It is anticipated that the number of cases reported will continue to increase.
Recognizing and treating tickborne diseases early is important, Anderson noted.
Signs and symptoms of Lyme disease, the state's most frequently reported tickborne illness, may occur 3 days to 30 days after the bite of an infected tick and can include a characteristic rash called an erythema migrans (EM) rash, fever and chills, fatigue, headache, muscle and joint pain, and swollen lymph nodes.
The rash is circular and red initially and expands over several days, though it may not occur in all cases.
The disease is easily treated with antibiotics when detected early.
If left untreated, Lyme disease can result in debilitating arthritis, and serious heart and nervous system complications.
Other tickborne illnesses range from mild to severe and include anaplasmosis, the state's second highest reported tickborne illness, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, and Powassan virus disease.
Signs and symptoms of these illnesses can include fever, chills, sweats, muscle aches, joint pain, headache, fatigue, nausea and vomiting, and loss of appetite.
Severe cases can include a change in mental status, paralysis and coma, and can be fatal. Unlike anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis and babesiosis, Powassan virus infections are not treatable with antibiotics.
These steps can help prevent tick bites and reduce the chance of getting tickborne diseases:
- Avoid wooded and bushy areas with high grass and leaf litter since ticks prefer these areas. Stay to the center of a trail to avoid contact with grass and brush.
- Use effective tick repellents and apply according to the label instructions. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends using repellents with 20 percent DEET on exposed skin and clothing to prevent tick bites. Adults should apply repellents to children, taking special care to avoid spraying in the hands, eyes, and mouth. Repellents that contain permethrin can also be applied to clothing.
- Wear clothes that will help shield you from ticks. Long-sleeved shirts and long pants are best. Tuck your pants into the top of your socks or boots, to create a "tick barrier." Light-colored clothing makes ticks easier to spot.
- Landscape homes and recreational areas to reduce the number of ticks and create tick-safe zones by using woodchips or gravel along the border between lawn and wooded areas. Continue to remove leaf litter and clear tall grass and brush around houses throughout the summer.
- Check your body frequently for ticks, and remove them promptly. Blacklegged ticks are small and may be difficult to find so careful and thorough tick checks must be done on all parts of the body. It is important to pay special attention to areas where ticks tend to hide such as the head, scalp, and body folds (armpit, behind the knee, groin).
- Remove attached ticks slowly and gently, using a pair of thin-bladed tweezers applied as close to the skin as possible. Folk remedies like petroleum jelly, nail polish remover, or burning matches are not safe or effective ways to remove ticks.
- Protect your pets from tick bites by checking your dog or cat for ticks before allowing them inside. While a vaccine can prevent Lyme disease in pets, it will not stop the animal from carrying infected ticks into the home. Speak to your veterinarian about topical tick repellant available for pets.