What Could Wisconsin's Deer Tick Increase Mean For Illinois?

May 19, 2016
Originally published on May 20, 2016 6:02 am

Wisconsin recently had a large increase in the number of deer ticks throughout the state. But what does that mean for Illinois? 

Deer ticks are the ticks that could carry Lyme disease, and the peak time for reported cases of the disease is usually in June and July. The University of Wisconsin Arboretum saw the number of immature deer ticks increase by more than 1,000 percent from 2014 to 2015, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.

Diep Johnson is an epidemiologist with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. She says there are more than 3,000 Lyme disease cases in the state -- that’s including confirmed, probable and estimated cases.

Johnson says the areas with the most ticks historically were in the northern and western parts of the state. But she says the ticks are spreading to all parts of Wisconsin, and that could be because of their namesake – deer.

Johnson says studies have shown deer tick increases have a direct correlation with deer densities.

“It doesn’t take very many deer to carry a lot of ticks on them,” Johnson said. “And if they’re coming into your backyard and they’re just kind of living near where humans are living, then that’s a way for them to bring the ticks closer to humans.”

Linn Haramis, an entomologist for the Illinois Department of Public Health, says the department suspected the deer ticks carrying Lyme disease originally traveled from water systems in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin, like the Rock River.

“So certainly, at least theoretically, it’s possible that the ticks were moving with those deer populations along those river corridors,” Haramis said.

Illinois health officials say about 26 percent of all confirmed Lyme disease cases in the state had exposure to Wisconsin elements.

There were 294 confirmed Lyme disease cases in Illinois last year. So far, there are 13 this year. Illinois health officials say those numbers are still preliminary.

Haramis says there has been a steady increase in confirmed Lyme disease cases in Illinois since 1998. But he says the main tick-borne diseases – including Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever from the American Dog Tick – are treatable if they receive proper medical attention early on.

If a tick bites you and starts to burrow, Haramis says to make sure you remove it within a few hours and to only remove imbedded ticks with tweezers or your fingers with a tissue.

Winnebago County health officials say there is one confirmed Lyme disease case so far in the county. There were seven last year.

Todd Marshall, the environmental health director for the Winnebago County Health Department, says some ways to protect yourself from ticks are to make sure you walk on trails so plants don’t brush against you and to wear light, protective clothing and insect repellent.

“And the real important part is checking yourself, your children and other family members every two to three hours for ticks,” Marshall said. “And of course, if your pet spent time outdoors, regularly check them also.”

Haramis says those who spend time outside for their jobs, like electrical workers, should also be aware of the presence of ticks while they’re working. He says they should also be cautious, even if they have been bitten before and nothing happened then.

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