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Tic, Tac, Tick! Small Bug Not Something to Play Around With

Getting outdoors in Wisconsin this spring and summer will increase your encounters with an increased population of bugs — ticks included — so be prepared to take care of yourself.

I'm an outdoor, active, adventure-seeking type of person.

I like to go camping, and I don't mind spending a weekend in a place where showers are not included among the amenities (though I don't prefer it that way). I'm not afraid to go barefoot — dirt, sand, grass; I want it all between my toes.

I enjoy long hikes, a mild amount of fishing and I'd rather spend a weekend exploring new terrain than hitting the shopping mall. (This is starting to sound like a personal ad, but, trust me — it's not.)

So it wasn't out of the ordinary when my boyfriend Nick, our dog Mara and I decided to go for a 4-mile hike through the Richard Bong State Recreational Area south of Milwaukee a couple weekends back.

What was out of the ordinary was the extreme amount of ticks that we pulled from both Mara and Nick during the walk, immediately after and the next day. Bong Recreational Area is a marsh land with ponds and foliage that set the perfect scene for tick habitat. But — this early in the year?!

I believe the total count on Nick was 6. Mara, 8. Me? Apparently I don't smell good to ticks, because I walked away with zero.

Thank goodness, But, still ... gross. 

Later that week we heard someone talking on Wisconsin Public Radio about this tick epidemic. Three cases of lyme disease had already been detected and treated in the western part of Wisconsin.

For those who don't know, lyme disease is something carried by deer ticks — and when they cling on to humans, the disease can transfer. According to the U.S. Library of National Medicine, the tick must be attached to your body for 24 to 36 hours at minimum before the disease can transfer, in most cases. Eventually, lyme disease can cause long-term joint inflammation and heart rhythm problems, and brain and nervous system problems are also possible.

While I cannot find the WPR broadcast mentioned above, I did come across this article from WTAQ.com that said there were three confirmed cases of lyme disease in Marathon County as of March 28. Normally, the article said, lyme disease doesn't pop up until April or even May.

My veterinarian at the Fredonia Vet Clinic gave us information about testing Mara for lyme disease when we visited the clinic to pick up her Frontline (which provides some protection from ticks). We thought about having them complete the $25 test, but because we were able to identify all ticks as "wood ticks," a kind that doesn't carry the disease, and no ticks were able to cling on for even 12 hours — we decided we were likely in the clear.

But then, an article appeared in the Ozaukee Press this week, talking about the trending increase of dogs in the area testing positive for lyme disease.

Though this information has been toying with my emotions, I have logically explained to myself several times that the ticks on Mara and Nick were all wood ticks. End of discussion. No reason to consider it further.

The other important part to dealing with a tick is to be sure that you pull the bug in its entirety out of your body — meaning, you don't want to leave behind any tick parts when you wiggle the creature out. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website has a three-step process explaining how to do just that.

While lyme disease is a serious illness, when caught early and diagnosed correctly, it can be treated with antibiotics, according to the CDC. Even then, about 10 to 20 percent of those diagnosed with lyme disease and treated will continue to have persistent symptoms.

Wisconsin has been long known for being particularly inhabited by ticks. So the next time you head anywhere remotely near the "outdoors," be sure to have someone check you for creepy crawlers. 

If it helps, you can play the country classic, "I'd Like to Check You for Ticks," by Brad Paisley while doing so.

Richard Pollack April 13, 2012 at 01:12 PM
Lyssa, Good advice. I'd add a little more for your readers. They should be aware that finding and promptly removing ticks (from a person or pet) can dramatically reduce risk of infection. Once the tick has been removed, have it identified. Only certain kinds of ticks can transmit the agents of Lyme disease, babesiosis and anaplasmosis. Other ticks may transmit other infections. The longer the tick is attached, the greater the risk of infection. Physical samples can be sent, or digital images uploaded, for a rapid, confidential, independent and expert evaluation. For more educational information and help with identification, visit https://identify.us.com. Richard Pollack, PhD (IdentifyUS LLC)
MDS April 13, 2012 at 03:35 PM
I had never seen a tick before until we hiked around in the Bong State Recreation Area a few years back. For some reason they are just thick there. I have never gone back.
Tina April 19, 2012 at 05:36 PM
We found so many on our labradoodle Hennie that it was like a horror movie. I'm not kidding. It got to seeming like every time she left the house, she came back with something attached. I am very sensitive to chemicals and don't want to spray my yard, but found these tick tubes on the web. I really think they have kept down the numbers of ticks. The website is www.ticktubes.com

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