Uptick in ticks: how to stay safe this summer

MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) -- Warmer weather in Wisconsin means lots of outdoor activities, and with them comes the risk of tick exposure.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services reports 3,105 estimated cases of Lyme disease in the Badger State in 2018. Experts say, the number is likely higher, but often cases go unreported.

In fact, DHS statistics show the average number of cases has doubled in the last decade, making Wisconsin one of the states with the highest risk of Lyme disease.

“In Wisconsin, we're one of the endemic areas where ticks can transfer Lyme disease,” says Dr. Diana Flint, SSM Health Dean Medical Group, Family Medicine. “So you always want to be aware if you're in areas that are wooded, with bushes, with trees. Walking your dog, taking a walk in nature. There can always be exposure."

DHS says every county in Wisconsin has ticks. And while ticks are more active from May to September, they’re still prevalent all year round.

Experts say ticks are often found in wooded areas or tall grass.

To avoid tick bites, follow the ABC’s:
Avoid: Steer clear of ticks by knowing where to find them.
Bug Spray: Apply to any exposed skin and to your clothing.
Clothing: Cover most of your skin with long sleeved shirts and pants when hiking.

“Prepare yourself by spraying any bug spray that you can,” Dr. Flint says. “Then whenever you come back in, do a quick tick check, because you don’t always feel them when they’re biting you.”

Dr. Flint also reminds us to check our dogs for ticks, to keep them safe, and to make sure the tick isn’t transferred to any humans.

While stats show the number of Lyme disease cases on the rise, Dr. Flint suggests the numbers are so high because modern medicine has a better way to detect tick-borne illnesses. She says, the risk of actually contracting Lyme disease is low.

“If you get a tick bite, you have about a 5 percent chance of developing Lyme disease,” she says. “The tick has to stay on there from anywhere between 24 to 48 hours, for it to actually have been there long enough to transfer the disease.”

If you are bit by a tick, remove it right away. Use a tweezers to grab the tick at the closest part of the skin, and pull it out.

Dr. Flint says you should contact your doctor if you’re bit by a tick and develop a rash shaped like a target, flu-like symptoms or muscle aches. All those symptoms are signs of Lyme disease.