Warmer temperatures mean that Wisconsinites are spending a lot more time enjoying the outdoors with activities such as gardening, hiking, picnicking, and camping. However, spring also happens to be a season of peak tick activity in the Midwest. Ticks may be small but can have big health impacts as they carry diseases such as Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis, and others.
Our most significant tickborne disease threat in Wisconsin is Lyme disease, which is carried by deer ticks (Ixodes scapularis). Researchers at UW-Madison have found that approximately 40% of adult deer ticks in Wisconsin currently carry the microorganism responsible for Lyme disease. In addition, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services reported over 3,000 Lyme cases per year over recent years, but estimates suggest that many cases go undiagnosed, and the real tally could be ten times higher than the reported numbers.
Luckily, there are some simple precautions that we can use to protect ourselves, family and friends, and pets from ticks and the diseases they carry. These include avoiding prime tick habitat such as weedy vegetation along edges of trails, wearing long-sleeved clothing to make it harder for ticks to get to skin, and using EPA-registered repellents such as DEET or picaridin. In addition, conducting regular tick checks can be a particularly helpful precaution. To transmit Lyme disease, deer ticks need to be attached for a significant length of time (often 48-72+ hours), so daily tick checks can be an important step in reducing the risks of Lyme disease.
Wisconsinites can also help out tick researchers at UW-Madison by downloading and using the Tick App (thetickapp.org). This app is available for both iOS and Android devices and is helping researchers get a better understanding of tick habitat in the US.
To learn more about protecting yourself from ticks, check out the ABCs of Tick Season from the UW Insect Diagnostic Lab blog.