Series: Tick-Borne Diseases In Wisconsin

Ticks are a familiar nuisance around Wisconsin, but they also pose a growing health risk to the humans they feed on, exposing them to disease-causing pathogens. Deer ticks have spread across much of the state in recent decades, feeding on wildlife along with people and their pets. These ticks transmit Lyme disease, and the state is facing a persistently high rate of infection. Ticks spread other illnesses as well. Entomologists and public health researchers are investigating the relationship between ticks, their hosts and the surrounding environment, but continue to emphasize prevention as the best way to reduce infections.
 
An invasive tick species is swiftly making its way across the United States, the first to do so in about 50 years.
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The Upper Midwest and the northeastern regions of the United States are increasingly a carpet of Lyme disease cases each summer and autumn. But the southeastern part of the country — a vast expanse of hot and humid territory and certainly hospitable to the ticks that carry Lyme-causing bacteria — gets off relatively easy.
As the weather warms and more people head outdoors, a complex interplay of factors, some of which scientists are still trying to understand, will determine how seriously Lyme disease will afflict Wisconsin in 2018.
Wisconsin is experiencing an upward trend of both deer ticks and Lyme disease. Scott Gordon of WisContext discusses how there's still a lot to learn about how widespread infections are in the state.
The creature primarily responsible for infecting people with the bacteria that causes Lyme disease is the black-legged tick, often called the deer tick. When it comes to the tick's life cycle, though, deer aren't the most important animals it encounters in Wisconsin.
The tiny deer tick is an incredibly effective vector for disease. It's made Wisconsin one of North America's hotspots for Lyme disease, and is spreading several other pathogens dangerous to people.
The number of deer ticks and other species can vary each year, and weather conditions can play an important role in day-to-day exposure risks, but the state remains a hotspot for Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses.
UW-Extension entomologist PJ Liesch said Wisconsin is "one of the hot spots of tick activity in the U.S." But, he stresses it's still possible to enjoy the outdoors.
One enduring myth about ticks is that these little bloodsucking creatures hang around on tree branches and leaves, waiting to drop down on an unsuspecting feast. Ticks don't dive-bomb their intended meals, but they do engage in behavior called "questing."