By Madeline Sky, Weekend Meteorologist - bio | email
LA CROSSE, Wis. (WXOW) - You're on a pleasant summer hike. The grass is green, the sun is out, and the dog is happy. But there may be dangers lurking in the grass.
“We typically think of them now as nothing more than syringes,” said Steve Callister, Director of the Microbiology Research Laboratory at Gundersen Health System. “They feed on multiple hosts and they're very effective at acquiring an infection from one host and then transmitting that infection.”
Callister is talking about deer ticks.
Bites from infected deer ticks can spread lyme disease by transmitting bacteria to people and pets.
“The bacteria is carried in small mammals” said Dave Geske, Vector Control manager for the La Crosse Co. Health Department. “And then if you have a tick population like we do here that's thriving, you can have transmission to people.”
To make matters worse, lyme disease isn't the only deer tick-borne disease. And the Coulee Region is in the thick of it.
“Back in the early 80s when we started lyme disease research we were only really concerned with that particular illness,” said Callister. “There's now at least six pathogenic organisms transmitted by deer ricks that cause human illness.”
“It's ubiquitous here,” said Geske. “We find it [deer ticks] just about anywhere we have the right conditions with vegetation and small mammals.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 95% of lyme disease cases occur in 13 states. And Wisconsin and Minnesota are two of the 13 states.
Lyme disease transmission is highest around this time of year.
“There are key times for spreading disease,” said Geske. “And really, spring time into early summer is the time when most people become infected.
During the summer, adult deer ticks slow down. Immature deer ticks on the other hand, stay active.
“People kind of tend to forget about tick borne illnesses during June, July, and August,” said Callister, “when adult ticks aren't very active.”
This is because immature deer ticks are considerably smaller than adults. According to Callister, only around the size of a poppy seed. This makes them much more difficult to find on your body, but they're just as likely to transmit disease.
“Very often people have no idea they had a tick on them,” said Geske. “And they come up with symptoms and then that's when they find out they had contact with lyme disease. In the fall of the year when the ticks are more mature, they're larger and it's easier to know you have a tick on you.”
Thankfully, the best way to stay safe is simple an inexpensive.
“The number one thing to prevent tick-borne illness,” said Callister, “is really to do tick checks when you get in from the outdoors.”
A tick needs to be latched on to a person for one to two days to transmit the bacteria that causes lyme disease.
Some of the signs that you may have been bitten by an infected deer tick include a bulls-eye rash, sore joins and muscles, fatigue, and fever. If caught early, this disease is much more treatable.
According to Geske, having an awareness of our bodies and the environment is going to become increasingly more important with respect to tick-borne diseases.
“Over the future I think we're going to see increased opportunity for human infection,” said Geske. “That's why we have to take the smart steps to protect ourselves.”
More information on deer ticks and lyme disease can be found on the Center for Disease Control and Prevention website at http://www.cdc.gov/lyme/ .
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