RELATED: Ticked Off: My Lyme Disease Story
Out for a walk in the woods, you feel a little tickle on your ankle but think nothing of it. That night, you take o your sock and … there it is. A tick. What to do?
Lyme disease – a debilitating tick-borne neurological malady that can have long-term effects – has doubled in Wisconsin in the past decade, with more than 3,100 cases in 2018. The deer ticks that carry the disease can be found in every county of the state; ticks’ preferred habitat of woods, brush and tall grass are very common here. But deer ticks can live in shorter grass, too. “Being in the city does not make you immune to tick bites,” says Debra Muth, founder of Serenity Health Care Center in Waukesha, which often treats Lyme patients. “Tick checks are still absolutely necessary in the city.”
Here’s how to protect yourself:
KEEP TICKS IN THE GRASS
Using a spray with 20%-30% DEET or another repellent will keep ticks (and mosquitoes!) away. You can also treat clothing or other gear with inexpensive permethrin (a single treatment lasts six weeks) or buy pre-treated gear. Wearing long pants and tucking the legs into your socks will keep the crawlies o your skin, too.
PROTECT YOUR YARD
Biological treatments like nematodes, applied via hose or another spray device, can keep your yard or garden tick-free for as little as $50 an acre.
CHECK YOURSELF AND OTHERS
Be thorough in hard-to-reach areas, such as the armpits and behind the knees, and check kids head to toe. You will primarily be looking for deer ticks: small spider-like buggers with red-brown to nearly black bodies and elongated mouthparts. Although adult deer ticks are most active from May through September, you are more likely to find tiny baby ticks in early summer – and they can bite. After a check, change, wash and heat-dry your clothes.
HANDLE BITES WITH CARE
Not all deer ticks carry Lyme, and the risk is low if an attached tick is removed within 36 hours. If you find one, don’t panic, but do remove it properly. Wearing gloves, grasp the tick with a tweezers as close to the skin as possible, then pull firmly upward and away without twisting or jerking. Disinfect the bite area. Call your doctor if you have Lyme symptoms within 30 days. The most common (but not universal) symptom is a circular rash around the bite. Others include fever, fatigue, headaches and achy joints.
DON’T FORGET YOUR PETS
Pets that venture outside are common tick carriers and can become infected themselves, so they should be regularly checked. If you find one, remove it using the above method. The tick’s mouth might remain, but that will not harm your pet and will fall out relatively quickly. Reward your good boy or girl with a treat.
KNOW YOUR TICK
Reddish-dark brown, no white markings; nymphs as small as a 1/10 of an inch. High concern; can spread Lyme as well as anaplasmosis and other disease.
Larger than deer ticks, white markings; nymphs do not bite people. Low concern; rarely spreads disease in Wisconsin.