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Ticks in Wisconsin: What You Need to Know

Ticks 101

Ticks are commonly found in many areas throughout Wisconsin and can spread diseases to people and animals by biting them.

Ticks feed on blood by attaching their mouth parts into the skin of a human or animal. During feeding, ticks release saliva that may contain germs.

After you, your family memebers, or your pets spend time in the woods or areas with tall grass or brush, it is always important to check for ticks, especially in the spring, summer, and early fall.

 

Ticks are arachnids, related to spiders, mites, and scorpions. In Wisconsin, there are three types of ticks that can spread disease to people:

  • The deer (black-legged) tick
  • The wood (American dog) tick, and
  • The lone star tick.

Nearly all illnesses spread by ticks in Wisconsin are caused by the deer tick. Most people who get sick from a tick bite will do so in the late spring, summer, or early fall, when ticks are most active, and people are outdoors.

Deer Tick

Wisconsin Ticks

Wood Tick

Lone Star Tick

There are four different phases in a tick life cycle.

This cycle includes egg, larva, nymph, and adult stages. Once they hatch from eggs, ticks need to have a blood meal to develop into the next life stage.

Ticks feed by biting and attaching to the skin of an animal or person, called a host. When a tick attaches to a host, it will usually feed for three to seven days.

It is during the first blood meal, commonly taken from a small mammal, such as a mouse, that a tick may become infected with a bacteria, parasite, or virus.  

An infected tick that then goes on to bite a person, can potentially spread any germs it may be carrying.

Usually, only nymphs and adult female ticks can spread illnesses.

Deer Tick Life Cycle

Ticks live in wooded areas and areas with tall grass or brush. They do not jump or fly and usually stay close to the ground to find a host to attach themselves to. Ticks find a host by crawling to the edge of a leaf or blade of grass and wait for an animal or person to brush up against them. They then bite and attach to the host for a blood meal.

A warmer and wetter climate can increase the risk of getting an illness from a tick. This is because ticks thrive in warm, humid weather. Warming temperatures in Wisconsin have created favorable conditions for ticks to survive in more areas of the state and have made the active tick season longer. For more information, visit our Climate and Infectious Disease page.

Ticks must bite you to spread their germs. They also must remain attached to you for at least 24 to 36 hours to spread most germs, including the bacterium that causes Lyme disease. The best way to avoid getting sick from a tick is to prevent them from biting you. There are many ways to prevent tick bites when spending time where ticks may live, including doing daily tick checks, showering within two hours after being outdoors, using insect repellent, and wearing long sleeves and pants to prevent ticks from getting on you. Check out other tips to prevent tick bites!

If you remove a tick from your body, testing the tick for any diseases is not recommended for multiple reasons:

  • Tick testing laboratories may have lower standards than clinical diagnostic laboratories.
  • If your tick tests positive for a disease, it does not necessarily mean you were infected.
  • If your tick tests negative for a disease, it does not rule out infection from other ticks you may have been bitten by.
  • If you have been infected, you will likely develop symptoms and require treatment before getting your tick testing results back.

However, if you are curious and want to know what type of tick bit you, tick identifying services are available. Different types of ticks live in different parts of the country and the state. There are over 15 types of ticks in Wisconsin alone, however, most human tick bites in Wisconsin are from deer ticks or wood ticks. 

Tick bites can be unpleasant and can sometimes cause an illness, however, most people do not need to see a doctor immediately after being bitten by a tick. Taking antibiotics is usually not recommended to prevent illnesses caused by ticks after being bitten, but it can be helpful in some circumstances. How do you know if you should see a doctor to talk about taking a dose of an antibiotic to prevent Lyme disease? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Tick Bite Bot is a new interactive tool that can help you determine if you should see a doctor.  

Whether or not you see a doctor immediately after a tick bite, you should monitor for symptoms for 30 days after removing the tick. Call a doctor right away if you develop any of the following symptoms within 30 days after being bitten:

  • Rash
  • Fever
  • New or worsening fatigue
  • New or worsening muscle pain
  • Joint swelling and pain 
 Want to know more about the tick you found?

Have you recently found or removed a tick from yourself, your child, or your pet and want to learn more about it? The Wisconsin Department of Health Services offers a fast and simple tick identification service based on a few questions and photographs you submit online. You can send a submission if you live in Iowa, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.

The Tick Identifying Service cannot determine if the tick you found was carrying any germs or whether it made you sick. If you were bitten by a tick, or think you may have been bitten, monitor yourself for rash, fever, new muscle and joint pain, and new fatigue for 30 days. If any of these symptoms occur, contact your health care provider immediately. The only way to know if a tick made you sick is through an evaluation, and sometimes a blood test, performed by a health care provider. If you were bitten by a tick and live in Wisconsin where Lyme disease is common, consider contacting a health care provider right away to see if a single dose of antibiotics may be appropriate to help prevent Lyme disease.

 

Submit a tick for identification

 Track tick bites by region

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tracks the number of people who seek medical care in emergency departments for tick-related concerns throughout the United States. These data can be used to help show when people are at high risk for tick bites in different regions of the country. Wisconsin data are included in the “Midwest Region.” Learn more and view the data.

The best way to avoid getting sick is to prevent tick bites.

Learn ways to Fight the Bite!

Last revised July 6, 2022