With spring in full swing and warm weather a constant, ticks are now on the move until autumn. Hikers, hunters and farmers are at the highest risk as they brush up against vegetation where ticks reside.
Marshfield Clinic researchers are working with state and federal authorities to learn more about tick habitat, and spread of tick-borne diseases.
Cases of Lyme as well as anaplasmosis and babesiosis are increasing as the tick moves from west to east across Wisconsin. Changes in forestry practices, and increases in deer and white-footed mouse populations, which host the ticks, also have led to the illnesses' increasing prevalence.
Marshfield Clinic Core Lab Researcher Anna Schotthoefer, Ph.D., is part of a Clinic research team helping providers diagnose anaplasmosis more quickly and accurately than ever before. Clinic providers can order a test that can detect DNA of an infection.
"The increasingly broad geographic range has become problematic for tick-borne diseases," Schotthoefer said. "Just in the past five to seven years, we have started seeing more people living in areas where tick-borne illnesses are being reported."
When a tick bites it can potentially transmit disease through its saliva. A person bitten by a deer tick might not see symptoms for several weeks, and even then the symptoms might be dismissed.
"Symptoms, which include acute fever, are very similar to those of influenza," said Marshfield Clinic physician and infectious disease researcher Matt Hall, M.D. "For providers seeing a patient, if they have these symptoms in winter, they'll suspect it's flu. In summer, it's quite possibly anaplasmosis."