Monday, April 30, 2018 - 10:47am

Warm weather has finally arrived, which means it’s time for yard work and outdoor activities. Spring is the beginning of peak tick season, and in the past few years, we have seen numbers of deer ticks in our area increase significantly. They transmit Lyme disease, but also other diseases, which are becoming more common.

According to Amanda Kita-Yarbro, Communicable Disease Epidemiologist for Public Health Madison & Dane County (PHMDC), “A bite from an infected deer tick can lead to Lyme disease, which gets the most attention, but also to other diseases like anaplasmosis. PHMDC has seen Lyme disease cases increase over the past three years, with an average of 136 cases per year, and additionally sees about 10-15 cases of anaplasmosis each year.”

Early symptoms of Lyme disease and other tickborne diseases like anaplasmosis include fever, rash, chills, headache, fatigue, muscle and joint aches, and swollen lymph nodes. They can occur anywhere from three to 30 days after a bite. If you have any of these symptoms and have been spending time outdoors, talk to your healthcare provider. When treated with antibiotics in the early stages of symptoms, recovery is usually rapid and complete.

For Lyme disease that is left untreated, infection can spread to joints, the heart and the nervous system. Anaplasmosis, even in healthy people, can be serious and sometimes fatal if the correct treatment is not chosen.

“We’ve all been educated that a tick bite results in a bullseye rash, but not everyone gets that kind of rash, and sometimes don’t even see a tick on their body. This can make diagnosis hard at times. In addition to watching for bullseye rashes, people can look for round or oval rashes that gradually expand, reaching up to 12 inches or more,” says Kita-Yarbro.

Preventing tick bites is the best defense from getting a tickborne disease.

  • Avoid wooded and brushy areas with high grass, and walk in the center of trails when hiking.
  • Use repellents containing 20-30% DEET on both exposed skin and clothing, carefully following product instructions.
  • Use products that contain permethrin on clothing, carefully following product instructions.
  • For those looking for alternative repellents and pesticides, CDC’s website on natural tick repellents and pesticides.
  • Shower or bathe as soon as possible after coming indoors.
  • Tumble clothing you’ve worn on high heat in a dryer, to kill any ticks on clothing.

People may think of doing tick checks only after coming in from hikes or being in the woods, but due to the increase in ticks in our area they should now make tick checks part of their daily routine, even if they’ve been in urban areas or their own backyards. They should do a full-body tick check using a mirror before showering or bathing after they’ve been outdoors. Remember that ticks can be as small as a poppy seed or sesame seed. It’s important that ticks be removed completely, and as soon as possible.

However, if a tick is found on the body, it is important to distinguish if the species is associated with disease. For this reason, the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Medical Entomology department has just launched the Wisconsin Tick ID service, a new resource for tick identification. To use this service, a person can fill out and submit the online tick identification form, including details and photos of the tick. They will receive an identification of the species, which will provide valuable information about how they might respond (e.g. go to the doctor or not).

Dogs are very susceptible to tick bites and the diseases they cause. Prevention is the best defense for them as well. Tick preventive products should be used on dogs regularly and tick checks should be done daily. If a tick comes into the house on a dog it could attach to another pet or person living in the house.

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