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Spring brings back the threat of ticks

It was a dark-humor joke that surfaced when COVID-19 emerged in the U.S.: combine the new virus with an existing tick-borne disease in the region and you have — Corona with Lyme.

Now that spring has arrived, it’s not so funny, the Florence County Health Department warns.

The fact that a nastier bug has all the attention doesn’t mean residents of northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula can relax on avoiding ticks and the maladies they can carry.

In fact, as residents are encouraged to get into the woods to be outdoors while maintaining “social distancing,” it might raise the risk factor of coming in contact with ticks.

Ticks are common in Wisconsin and can spread diseases such as Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, babesiosis and, more rarely, Powassan virus and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

“With warmer weather, people start spending more and more time outside,” said Annette Seibold, Florence County health officer. “Residents can protect themselves and their families from tick bites by following simple steps before, during, and after being outdoors.”

Lyme disease is the most common illness spread by ticks in Wisconsin. It has spread to every county in the state over the past three decades, and doctors diagnose it in thousands of Wisconsinites each year. In 2018, more than 3,105 cases of Lyme disease were reported in Wisconsin, and it’s estimated that many more cases were unreported.

Florence County has seen a significant increase in reported cases of Lyme disease with six confirmed cases in 2018.

Many people who get sick from an illness spread by ticks do not remember getting a tick bite, Florence County health officials said. The common symptoms of illnesses spread by ticks include fever, rash, headache, body aches and fatigue. Most diseases spread by ticks in Wisconsin, including Lyme disease, can be treated with antibiotics. Those who believe they have those signs should call their regular doctor if they think they might have been bitten by a tick.

Tick bites are preventable. To avoid tick bites —

Before going outside:

— Use an insect repellent with at least 20% DEET or another EPA-registered repellent according to the label instructions;

— Use 0.5% permethrin products on clothing, socks, and shoes according to label instructions;

— Wear long sleeves and pants, and tuck pants into socks and shirts into pants to avoid ticks crawling under clothing;

— Use a veterinarian-prescribed tick prevention treatment on pets.

While outdoors:

— Walk in the center of trails and do not brush up against plants on the edge of trails;

— Avoid wooded and brushy areas with tall grass and leaves.

After being outdoors:

— Check your entire body for ticks, plus have someone check areas that you cannot see;

— Take a shower as soon as possible after coming in from outdoors;

— Place clothes in the dryer on high heat for 10 minutes to kill any ticks on clothing.

When spending time outdoors, be prepared and take a tick bite kit along as a way to prevent Lyme disease. A tick bite kit contains alcohol swabs, bandages, insect repellent wipes that contain DEET, tweezers, small plastic bag to keep tick after removed for identification, and a small plastic pouch to store supplies and for easy carrying and access.

The Florence County Health Department will have “Fight the Bite” tick removal kits available in the county for $1 at select locations. Call the Florence County Health Department at 715-528-4837 for more information or go to the website at www.florencecountywi.com.

The health department is on the first floor of the Florence County Courthouse at 501 Lake Ave. in Florence, Wis. The office, however, is closed for now under the governor’s orders due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

More information on tick bite prevention can be found online by going to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services website.

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