Lyme disease cases on rise in Wisconsin

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By Melissa R. Collum

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (WDSH) issued a new report stating that Lyme disease is on the rise in Wisconsin and preventative measures need to be taken.
Lyme disease is native to Wisconsin and has spread to all counties in the state. According to the WDSH in 2020, Wisconsin had 3,076 estimated cases of Lyme disease and in 2022 there were over 5,000 cases. The average number of reported cases has more than doubled over the past 15 years. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which monitors Lyme disease throughout the United States. It estimates the total number of cases is more than 10 times higher than what is reported.
Crawford County has one of the highest number of reported cases in the area with 97-168 per 100,000 residents. Grant, Richland, and Vernon counties all report 46-95 cases per 100,000. According to the WDHS Lyme disease is most common in younger and older people, specifically ages 5-9 and 55-69.  However, people of any age can become infected with Lyme disease.
Causes of Lyme disease
The Lyme disease bacteria causing human infection are spread to people through the bites of infected black-legged ticks, also know as deer ticks. In most cases, a tick must be attached for 36 to 48 hours or more before the Lyme disease bacterium can be transmitted. If you remove a tick quickly (within 24 hours), you can greatly reduce your chances of getting Lyme disease.
Nymphal ticks pose a particularly high risk due to their abundance and small size (about the size of a poppy seed), which makes them difficult to spot. A tick egg hatches into larva in the winter. A larva becomes a nymph in the spring and summer. A nymph becomes an adult tick in the fall and winter before laying its own eggs in the spring. In fact, Lyme disease patients are often not even aware of a tick bite before getting sick. Adult female ticks also can transmit the bacteria but because of their larger size (about the size of sesame seed), they are more likely to be noticed and removed from people before transmission of the bacteria can occur.
There are many steps that can be taken to protect yourself from tick bites. Use insect repellents on exposed skin and clothes to prevent tick bites. Repellents should contain one of these: 20–30% DEET, 10–20% Picaridin, 15–20% IR3535, or 30–40% oil of lemon eucalyptus. Parents should apply repellents to children. Use caution and avoid hands, eyes, and mouth. Don’t use oil of lemon eucalyptus on children under 3 years of age.
Permethrin is a pesticide that kills ticks when they crawl on your clothes. Apply it to clothes, shoes, and gear to prevent tick bites. Don’t apply directly to skin. After applied, permethrin lasts through several washes. Carefully apply repellents according to the label instructions. Some products should be applied more often than others. The EPA website has a resource for finding the correct repellent for your lifestyle:
Some people believe that if you live in the city you can not get a tick bite. Ticks avoid dry conditions, so they hide in places that are moist and shaded. You might not realize it at first, but your yard is full of hiding places for ticks, such as: Piles of leaves, tall grasses, dense brush, playground equipment, patio furniture and areas with trash.
Tick removal
Use clean, fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible. Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers. If you cannot remove the mouth easily with tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal.
After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol or soap and water. Never crush a tick with your fingers. Dispose of a live tick by: Putting it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet.

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