Published on July 29, 2022

A woman applying bug repellant.

Be mindful of preventing tick bites and seek care for symptoms

Illnesses caused by ticks can lead to serious health issues if left untreated. It is important to be mindful of tick-bite prevention and the need for care after a bite.

Tick-borne diseases in Wisconsin include anaplasmosis, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, Lyme disease, Powassan virus infection and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Lyme disease is the most prevalent illness caused by ticks.

Tick bites and tick-borne diseases can be prevented by staying out of wooded and grassy areas; using repellant; wearing long-sleeve shirts or jackets, pants and hats; and performing skin checks after spending time outside. Repellants help discourage ticks from attaching to the skin and biting.

If you are bitten by a tick and it is under your skin, use tweezers as close to the bite as possible to slowly extract the tick at a straight angle, without pulling or twisting. If the head remains embedded, sterilize a needle with isopropyl or rubbing alcohol and gently widen the area until the head can be removed. Apply alcohol to the area to reduce inflammation and infection.

Take a picture of the tick before or after extraction. It will help to identify the species if medical care is needed.

If you prefer to visit an urgent care location for the extraction, the tick can be removed by a health care provider.

“See a health care provider if you have a fever or fatigue or simply feel unwell – especially if you know you have a tick bite or you have been in a wooded or grassy area,” Stephanie McDearmon, MD, a family medicine physician with ProHealth Medical Group “Additional tick-related symptoms can sometimes appear days after a bite.”

Symptoms associated with Lyme disease and Lyme-like illness include:

  • Fatigue
  • Either muscle pain, joint pain or both
  • Either fever, sweating or both
  • Either rash, sores or both
  • Headache
  • Either confusion, mood changes, memory loss or a combination
  • Either sore throat, sore lymph nodes or both
  • Sleep disorders
  • Either abdominal pain, diarrhea, urinary frequency or a combination
  • Palpitations
  • Weight gain

Most tick bites and tick-borne illnesses can be diagnosed during an examination. Your exam will include a discussion about your recent outdoor activities, medical history and symptoms. A photo of the tick also helps narrow down a diagnosis.

Your provider will discuss your plan of care with you and answer your questions.

“Most patients who are diagnosed with or suspected of having an illness caused by a tick will be prescribed antibiotics,” Dr. McDearmon said. “Lab tests may be ordered in some cases.”

Follow your provider’s instructions and always complete the antibiotics prescribed to you. Some patients experience new symptoms or changes in symptoms over time. If you notice any changes in your health, contact your provider.

Patients can experience chronic Lyme disease and symptoms may linger. If needed, additional tests can measure the antibodies present in your system and help your provider modify your plan of care.

Most tick-borne illnesses can be successfully treated. In rare cases, Rocky Mountain spotted fever has been fatal.

Before taking a trip that will include time outdoors, check the location’s health department for information about ticks and precautions. For more information about ticks and tick-borne diseases in Wisconsin, visit dhs.wisconsin.gov/tick/index.htm.