As we fully embrace the summer, an increasing number of individuals are venturing outdoors to enjoy the mild temperatures. Unfortunately the warm days bring some unwelcome guests in the form of ticks, along with the potential risk of contracting tick-borne illnesses such as Lyme disease.
In 2020, Wisconsin had 3,076 estimated cases of Lyme disease. The average number of reported cases has more than doubled over the past 15 years. It’s important to remember that ticks are present in all counties in Wisconsin. People living in any county in Wisconsin can contract Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases. Ticks are typically most active in Wisconsin from May to November.
Tick Bite: What to Do
- Some ticks may only look like black sesame seeds. If you find one that isn’t attached, quickly remove it before it has a chance to latch on.
- If the tick is attached, remove it with fine-nosed tweezers, inserted between the tick body and the skin, then disinfect the bite area and mark your calendar so you remember when you’ve had a bite.
- After you remove the tick, be sure to wash your hands well with soap and water, and then monitor yourself, your children or your pet for symptoms of infection for 30 days after the removal of the tick.
- It’s also a good idea to keep the tick so it can be tested for germs in case you develop symptoms. Place the tick in a dry jar or Ziploc bag and save it in the freezer for later testing if necessary.
- Let your primary care doctor know about the bite as soon as possible. It’s important to treat Lyme disease as soon as possible after the bite. Symptoms that are left untreated become more serious as the bacteria starts to affect the nervous system. It can become difficult to treat.
In rare cases, Wisconsin wood or dog ticks can cause Rocky Mountain spotted fever and typhus, tularemia and tick paralysis. In Wisconsin, Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne illness.
The symptoms of Lyme disease can appear in just three days, or they may take as long as 30 days after a tick bite to develop. A rash, which often appears one week after a tick bite, occurs in 70% of patients. It is the most recognizable sign of Lyme disease. As the area of the rash gets larger, it may begin to resemble a bull’s eye.
Lyme disease symptoms
In addition to the rash, a person who is suffering from Lyme disease may experience other symptoms.
Symptoms in the first month may include:
- Muscle aches
- Joint pain
- Swollen lymph nodes
At later stages, Lyme disease can cause headaches, arthritis-like pain, stiff neck, loss of muscle tone, irregular heartbeat, dizziness, shortness of breath, shooting pain, numbness and short-term memory problems. A simple blood test can detect Lyme disease. If you have any of these symptoms it’s important to seek medical care.
According to the CDC, about 1 in 100 cases of Lyme disease results in Lyme carditis. Lyme carditis is caused by the Lyme disease bacteria entering the tissues of the heart leading to inflammation and various cardiac symptoms.
The characteristic feature of Lyme carditis involves the heart’s electrical system, which can result in heart rhythm abnormalities.
Symptoms of Lyme carditis
- Heart palpitations: A sensation of rapid or irregular heartbeats
- Chest pain: Discomfort or pain in the chest area
- Feeling tired or exhausted
- Difficulty breathing or catching breath
- Light-headedness or dizziness
How it’s treated
- Lyme carditis can either be treated with oral or intravenous antibiotics, depending on the severity.
Ways to protect yourself from ticks
- Wear pants, long sleeves and tall socks to minimize areas of exposed skin.
- Wear light-colored clothing to see crawling ticks easier. Light colors, which do not absorb as much heat, may also make you less attractive to mosquitoes.
- Use Picaridin or a 30% DEET repellent. Spray your clothes, boots and socks. Avoid spraying your face and the palms of your hands. If you’re hiking or camping, don’t forget to spray your backpack and your tent.
- Treat your clothes with permethrin. This repellent is effective for both mosquitoes and ticks. When applied correctly, permethrin may last through more than five washings. Treat your clothes and let them dry before wearing them. Use caution during treatment and don’t apply it to your skin. When liquid or wet, permethrin can be toxic to small animals.
- Tumble dry clothes after being outdoors on high heat for 10 minutes to kill any ticks that may have come in on your clothes.
- When you’re outside, avoid areas with long grass. Stay on trails if possible.
- After being outside, shower and carefully check your body for ticks. Black-legged ticks are very small and easy to miss.
Since no method of preventing ticks is foolproof, check yourself, your kids and your pets for ticks after being outdoors. If you spend time outside and experience achy muscles and sore joints, ask your primary care clinician for a Lyme disease blood test.
Desiree Dizadji, MD, FACC is a cardiologist with Ascension Medical Group Wisconsin in Racine. She is board-certified in cardiovascular disease, nuclear cardiology and internal medicine. She sees patients at Ascension All Saints Hospital – Spring Street Campus located at 3803 Spring St., #410 in Racine. For appointments, call 262-687-8260.
The Racine County Eye, which includes the Kenosha Lens, is your source for local news that serves our diverse communities. Subscribe today to stay up-to-date with local news.
Racine County Eye and Kenosha Lens – Journalism that serves.