Tick prevention, Lyme disease awareness are goals of new bills: ‘Wisconsin has fallen behind’
MADISON, Wis. – There’s a new push to educate people in Wisconsin about ticks and the illnesses they can carry. A group of state lawmakers introduced a package of bills aimed to spread awareness about Lyme disease.
“I know there’s a lot of other diseases that we take very seriously, and I think this is something that may have kind of been left on the back burner,” said Rep. Jeff Mursau. “There’s about a dozen states that have gotten out in front of it … and Wisconsin has fallen behind.”
Mursau is one of four lawmakers tackling the issue with a package of five bipartisan bills.
Wisconsin was the fourth worst state in the nation for the numbers of Lyme disease cases in 2017. There were an estimated 4,000 cases, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.
The proposals require the Department of Natural Resources to post signs and provide brochures in state parks and forests informing visitors about how to prevent tick bites and encouraging them to check for ticks after visiting. All state parks and forests would required to sell bug spray with DEET, which can help repeal ticks, under another bill.
Bridget Brown, a section chief for parks operations, said the DNR currently provides information and recommendations in pamphlets and takes steps to educate staff and park visitors about ticks. She said third party groups sell bug spray with DEET in some state parks.
Her main message for visitors this summer: “Be aware that ticks are everywhere.”
Another proposal would require an epidemiologist position at the state Department of Health Services’ Division of Communicable Disease be dedicated to vector-borne diseases spread by mosquitoes, ticks and other insects with a specific focus on Lyme disease.
Brown said state and federal recommendations are to wear clothing that will detract ticks. She said there are ticks in every part of Wisconsin. Deer ticks, wood ticks and lone star ticks can all be found in Wisconsin.
Alicia Cashman, who leads the Madison Area Lyme Support Group, said she is glad that lawmakers are taking the issue seriously. Her entire life was altered when she got Lyme disease several years ago.
“I no longer go into the woods, I no longer visit those places,” she said.
Cashman, who has dedicated the last few years of her life to raising awareness about ticks, said she used to spend a lot of time outside but now her deck is the extent of her time outdoors.
“I spray my yard and I go outside wearing light colored clothing, pants tucked in my socks looking like a geek, but I don’t want to go through this again,” she said.
She’s on board with all the bills except one that establishes a 16-member tick-borne disease study committee to create a report for the Legislature recommending policy changes. The recommendations would have to be “consensus-based,” and Cashman said the issue is so complex that it would be difficult to come to a consensus while also maintaining equal representation of all the stakeholders.
Cashman said the package of bills are a good step, but she believes the state needs to go further in trying to address Lyme disease.
“I think that there needs to be more awareness for sure,” she added.