Wisconsin is the 4th-worst state for Lyme disease in the entire country

Posted at 2:03 PM, May 03, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-04 12:50:48-04

It's tick season in Wisconsin, and we're one of the worst states for ticks in the country.

With weather warming up, more people are excited to be outside. Well, some eight-legged friends are eager for you to be outside too.

"You have warmer weather and you don't have that freeze off to kill insects," Angie Hagy, Director of Disease Control & Environmental Health for Milwaukee County said.

It’s still too early to tell exactly how bad this season will be. But we’re trending towards another bad year for Lyme in Wisconsin.

"We expect Lyme Disease to continue to increase because we're seeing the number of ticks increase," Hagy said. "It's a concern, but it's a manageable concern. You can take appropriate precautions to address the issue. It is something that we know is here."

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), vector borne illnesses like Lyme Disease have tripled since 2004. Lyme Disease is more prevalent in the Northeastern part of the country but Wisconsin is not far behind. The Badger State is one of 14 states that account for 95 percent of Lyme Disease cases.

The last recorded data from 2016 shows Wisconsin had the 4th-most reported cases of Lyme Disease. Hagy says it's a combination of warmer weather, the deer population, and human expansion into previously uninhabited areas. 

"It's about suburbanization " Hagy said. "As we pave and encroach on the environmental space out there, we're going to come into contact with the ticks. They don't have a place to live. We have to decide, if we pave everything, there's no place for that natural environment to be."

There were nearly 2,300 cases reported in 2016. Plus, over the last three years, Wisconsin averages 22 incidences of Lyme Disease per 100,000 people. It may not sound like a lot, but there it's more than 40 other states.

"We know the ticks are here," Hagy said. "They do have Lyme, but it is something you can use insect repellent for and you can check for. You just have to be vigilant."

The best way to avoid Lyme Disease is protection. Wearing long sleeves tucked into your pants, and long pants tucked into your socks. Hats and gloves are also a good idea to limit the amount of skin exposure.

Deer ticks tend to hang out in long grass and shrubs. It's important to check for ticks after being outside, but don't fear. The CDC says a tick removed within 48 hours lowers your chance of getting Lyme Disease. But a thorough check is important whenever you spend time outside this summer.

"A tick is about the size of a poppy seed," Hagy said. "It's going to be very small. It's really easy to miss. You have to be vigilant, especially if you're out, tromping through the woods. Sometimes it can come in on your clothes and stay on your clothes. It's a good idea to take everything off, throw clothes in the dryer for about ten minutes and the heat will make sure that anything on there, the hot heat will cook that tick."

"It is scary," Joyce Skinner of Milwaukee said. "You have to be careful."

On her daily walk with her dog Rocket, Skinner always has ticks and Lyme Disease on the mind. She sprays herself down with repellent and her dog has treatments to help as well. But she always makes sure to check for ticks because she is from Massachusetts, another state hit hard by Lyme Disease. She says, several family members have been hit with the disease, though they've recovered fully.

"I think people have to be cautious," Skinner said. "But we still have to get outside and enjoy nature. Winter is too long in Wisconsin."

The EPA has a long list of approved tick repellents you can choose from. But if you are interested in going a more natural route, the CDC has suggestions on different essential oils and garlic oil you can use.