By Denise Thornton

If you plan to be out in the woods or live next to woods, don’t be too quick to trade long pants and long sleeves for shorts and a tee shirt as the weather warms. You need to protect yourself from the ticks that are starting to emerge. Tick bites are possible year-round, but ticks are most active April through September.

Many types of ticks never feed on people. In Wisconsin, the two most common ticks that do are the wood tick, which is not a health concern here, and the black-legged tick (Ixodes scapularis), commonly known as the deer tick, which can transmit several serious diseases including Lyme disease and, more recently, anaplasmosis, which can start with symptoms like fever and nausea and in some cases, progress to organ failure.

Deer tick (left) and Wood tick (right). Photo courtesy of

Wisconsin is Tick Heaven

The Upper Midwest and the northeastern states are hardest hit by Lyme disease, and the numbers in Wisconsin are rising. According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, Wisconsin had 3,105 estimated cases in 2018.

Once considered to be a north woods hazard, deer ticks are now found in every county of the state. Deer are an important blood source for adult ticks, and in 2018 overwinter deer densities in the state varied from three to over 60 per square mile. The abundant woodlands interspersed with agriculture throughout much of central and southwestern Wisconsin creates high quality deer habitat.

“There’s been a change in the past 25 years,” says Dr. Susan Paskewitz, chair of the UW-Madison Department of Entomology. Ticks thrive in moist, shady forested environments, and love our increasingly mild winters. “We find them in pine forests, mixed forests and deciduous forests.”

Paskewitz has sampled along the woody edges and out into the yard in neighborhoods in Eau Claire and near Delton.

“Of 90 houses tested, by the end of June, 80 percent of them had at least one deer tick in the area we were sampling. Most were within three to six feet of the woods,” Paskewitz continued, “but a few were found in bright, open, mowed lawn. I don’t think they live long there, but they were making their way out there, so if you are walking out to get your mail without your shoes on, you might pick up that particular tick.”  (See link for article)



They say a picture‘s worth a thousand words.  The picture of this tick in the gum line in the mouth of a dog shows how durable and tenacious ticks are.

A few points for consideration:

  • Migrating birds, rodents, deer, lizards, and human movement are transporting ticks everywhere.  For far too long doctors have been looking at maps to diagnose people.  Trust me, ticks are virtually everywhere and adapt to weather conditions quite easily.
  • If I’ve written this once, I’ve written it 1,000 times – many people never see the tick or the rash and research shows the rash is highly variable – certainly not a sure thing.  
  • For more on tick prevention:  I’m happy to report I saw some controlled burning in ditches as I was driving North today.  This has proven to reduce tick populations significantly.  I wish more of this was happening.
  • Regarding the section on if you find a tick bite: while it’s true that removing the tick as soon as possible is step #1, step #2 is getting prompt treatment as the “wait and see” approach has doomed patients to decades of suffering.  Demand immediate prophylactic treatment for each and every tick bite.  Trust me – whatever mild side effects and inconvenience a month or two’s worth of doxycycline can cause is nothing compared to the pain and suffering of a chronic, relapsing infection.
  • Testing for all tick-borne illnesses is abysmal.  Lyme is just the tip of the spear.  Ticks are literal garbage cans full of numerous pathogens they can transmit in just one bite.  The only infections listed in this article were Lyme disease, Anaplasmosis, and Babesia, when there are 19 and counting infections ticks can transmit.  Research has shown being infected with more than one pathogen causes more severe illness for a longer duration.  It is imperative that treatment includes medications that focus on each pathogen.  For the mounting list of tick-borne pathogens:
    • Babesiosis
    • Bartonellosis
    • Borrelia miyamotoi
    • Bourbon Virus
    • Colorado Tick Fever
    • Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic Fever
    • Ehrlichiosis/Anaplasmosis
    • Heartland Virus
    • Meat Allergy/Alpha Gal
    • Pacific Coast Tick Fever: Richettsia philipii
    • Powassan Encephalitis
    • Q Fever
    • Rickettsia parkeri Richettsiosis
    • Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF)
    • SFTS: Severe Fever with Thrombocytopenia Syndrome
    • STARI: Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness
    • Tickborne meningoencephalitis
    • Tick Paralysis
    • Tularemia
  • While the wood tick and deer tick are the most common ticks in Wisconsin, they are hardly the only ticks we must be concerned about.  Go here for more on the various types of ticks and the diseases they carry. The Lone Star tick has been found in Wisconsin and one allergist in MN states he diagnoses approximately 1 patient per month with Alpha-gal allergy – some patients hailing from WI.  Wisconsin is a hot-spot for Powassan virus, and we recently had our first death due to Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. It would be a huge mistake to believe you only have to worry about Lyme, Anaplasmosis, and Babesia in Wisconsin.  Nearly every patient I work with also has Bartonella – a tenacious pathogen that isn’t even on most doctors’ radars, and Mycoplasma is very common.
  • Most articles such as these don’t tell you what to do once you’ve become infected. Optimally, you would be prepared before this ever happened by finding the Lyme literate doctors (LLMD) in your state.  The best way to do this is to contact your local Lyme support group. There is also a tab on the right side of this website called, “Find a Lyme Support Group.”  There is also another tab slightly down from that in which you can contact ILADS directly for doctors in your area.  Read this if you don’t know what a LLMD is.  LLMDs are specially trained in tick-borne illness and know how to diagnose patients clinically.  This is crucial because current 2-tiered CDC testing misses anywhere from 70-85% of cases or more.  You truly can not trust testing.  They also know how to treat this complex illness that typically is far more than just Lyme.
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