In 2018, Wisconsin had more than 3,100 estimated cases of Lyme disease. The average number of reported cases has more than doubled over the past 10 years, according to the Department of Health Services.
“Lyme disease is extremely prevalent here unfortunately just due to the large amount of ticks in the area,” said Tiffany Miller, a nurse practitioner with Aspirus Rhinelander Clinic.
She said there are things you can do to prevent tick bites like wearing long sleeves and pants when outside, wearing light colors so you can spot the bug on you sooner, and using insect repellant.
If you spend a lot of time in the woods, Miller recommends getting a tool called a tick twister to safely remove a tick that’s bitten you.
“They work pretty nicely to get those ticks removed. Ideally you do want to get the whole tick out. In some cases, people can get the tick off, but the head unfortunately is still embedded. We tell patients not to become super alarmed if that does occur,” said Miller.
Miller said if the tick is removed within 48 hours, even with the head embedded, it’s less likely you’ll contract Lyme disease.
If you’ve had a tick on you for more than two days, she does recommend going to a clinic for treatment.
“We can start you on some prophylactic antibiotics. Hopefully you don’t develop Lyme disease,” said Miller.
But often, Miller says people don’t even know they had a tick bite them when they start showing symptoms of Lyme disease.
“They get this, in some bases, bullseye rash. In some cases, there’s no bullseye rash. They have body aches, fatigue, headache, joint pain and they’re wondering what’s going on. They come in, we test them, they test positive of Lyme disease and they’re surprised because they never notice they had a tick on them,” said Miller.
Of course, those symptoms have overlap with a lot of other illnesses like the flu and COVID-19.
It can make diagnosing it a bit harder, but Miller said health care providers are also paying more attention to as we head into summer.
“We can’t just simply label everything the flu or COVID. It takes a little bit more diagnostic skill and people need to be aware too. You have to think about that, especially given where we live. I would say anytime you develop those symptoms, it’s probably a good idea to get it checked out. The sooner the better,” said Miller.
If left untreated, Lyme disease can lead to joint, heart, and nervous system issues with long-term effects.