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Just Ask Us: Can ticks in Wisconsin infect people with Lyme disease?
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JUST ASK US

Just Ask Us: Can ticks in Wisconsin infect people with Lyme disease?

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Ticks

Deer ticks can cause serious medical problems, including Lyme disease. Shown are the adult female, bottom left; adult male, bottom right; nymph, upper left; and larva, upper right.

Q: Can ticks in Wisconsin infect people with Lyme disease?

A: Yes, but Lyme disease is more common in northern Wisconsin compared to southern Wisconsin, according to Rebecca Osborn, a tick specialist with the state Department of Health Services.

“Much of that has to do with the type of habitat,” Osborn said. The northern portion of the state has more woods and forest habitat, which supports higher numbers of ticks and the host animals that they feed on.

Lyme disease is still a risk in southern Wisconsin, she said, with cases increasing over the past several years.

Last year, Wisconsin saw about 3,100 cases of Lyme disease, and the average number of cases has more than doubled in the past decade, according to the department.

“All Wisconsin residents are at some risk of getting Lyme disease because this disease is so widespread in our state, but those who spend time in tick habitat (tall grass, shrubs, woods) or who have pets who spend time in these habitats during spring, summer and fall are at a higher risk of getting Lyme disease,” Osborn said.

If you develop a fever or rash within 30 days of a known or possible tick bite, you should visit a doctor, Osborn said.

If treated early, oral antibiotics are used and patients typically recover completely, according to the department.

Early symptoms include fever, headaches and rashes, but if left untreated, people with Lyme disease can develop swelling in their joints, brain and spinal cord, facial palsy, heart abnormalities and nerve pain. Lyme disease can be difficult to treat in the later stages and could require intravenous treatment. Some people have symptoms that may never go away or return after treatment ends.

To prevent tick bites that could infect you with Lyme or other tick-borne diseases, the department recommends using insect repellents with DEET, Picaridin, IR3534 or oil of lemon eucalyptus on skin and clothes, as well as the pesticide permethrin on clothes and outdoor gear.

If you do find a tick embedded in your skin, it should be removed as soon as possible by grasping it as close as possible to the skin and pulling upward and out with tweezers or fingers shielded with tissues or rubber gloves. After removing it, clean the area of the bite with rubbing alcohol.

You should not use other products, such as petroleum jelly, a hot match or nail polish, to try to remove the tick.

Shelley K. Mesch

Send questions to: justaskus@madison.com; Just Ask Us, P.O. Box 8058, Madison, WI 53708.

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Warm weather this spring jump started the tick season a little earlier than normal in Dane County, so health officials are advising residents to take precautions against bites, to avoid Lyme disease and other diseases.

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