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Lyme Disease: Prevention Can Be Much Easier Than Detection

Not concerned about ticks?

After a board meeting earlier this year, Southern Door schools’ future superintendent, Kevin Krutzik, and board member Penny Price found they had something in common other than public schools.

Both talked about relatives who dealt with long-term effects of Lyme disease, a tick-borne illness.

Krutzik said his son, George, missed about 30% of school when he was 14 due to an unknown flu-like illness. Eventually, doctors figured out that George, who’s now 21, had Lyme disease, but he had symptoms that took years to correct.

“It presented itself like a flu,” Kevin said. 

George was pale, exhausted and had frequent bouts with stomach illness and fever. Course after course of antibiotics had slow effects. 

George said he’s not sure where he picked up the tick – maybe in the woods near his house or outside of a cottage his family used to own along Cedar Lake.

Adult deer ticks are about the size of a sesame seed. Source: Wisconsin Department of Health.

George said doctors didn’t discover Lyme disease quickly because he did not have a telltale bullseye-shaped rash around the tick bite.

The family had success with Fox Valley Wellness, which prescribed health strategies and homeopathic approaches to help boost George’s immune system for optimum performance to fight spirochetes (spiral-shaped bacterium). His main, lasting effect, two years after infection, was fatigue.

“I had to give up baseball, soccer and basketball,” George said. “I just physically couldn’t do it. I could do golf. That’s the only sport I could do.”

It could have been worse.

“Some people have hearing loss, some people have arthritis,” Kevin said.

George gradually overcame most of the symptoms, and his absences from school decreased from dozens of days as an eighth-grader and freshmen to just a few as an upperclassman. George followed a gluten-free diet and relatively strict sleep schedule. By his senior year, he made the all-conference golf team at Howards Grove. 

Now a senior at Lakeland University, George said he can eat most anything he wants and plans to become a social studies teacher.

Wisconsin Stats

Door County has seen a major upturn in Lyme disease cases since 2017, county health officials said.

According to the 2023 County Environmental Health Profile, the rate for getting Lyme disease increased from about 12 people per 100,000 in Door County in 2017 to approximately 115 people per 100,000 in 2021. 

“This area is densely populated,” Stormy Gale said of deer ticks’ presence in Door County. “Compared to Brown County, the ticks are really bad here.”

Gale, a public health nurse with the Door County Health Department,  said the county received reports of an average of one case of Lyme disease per day this year between June 1 and June 11. The county health department recorded 19 cases in May, but even had cases in the winter months (at least 12 in December, at least five in January and at least seven in February).

Gale said the county’s Lyme disease statistics rarely, if ever, include every tourist or part-time resident who acquired the illness in Door County.

“With our tourism here, I’d be really curious to know the amount of people who are actually infected,” Gale said. “No matter what, it’s going to be skewed. A lot of people are coming up from elsewhere, and they likely won’t start having symptoms until two weeks later.”

Gale said deer ticks can remain active through mild parts of the winter months, as they can find shelter in leaf litter. 

“Tick-borne pathogens are zoonautic – they infect both humans and animals,” Gale said. 

Pets can get infected (see below), and Gale recommends treating pets with flea and tick medication. Pets can also bring ticks indoors with them. 

“With these tick-borne illnesses, if you catch them right away, they’re fairly treatable,” Gale said. “With Lyme disease, typically a tick needs to be attached for 36 to 48 hours for disease transmission.”

County Distributes ‘Tick Kit’

Gale said it’s important for people to check for ticks after being outdoors, to take precautions to keep ticks off themselves and to know how to remove them – grab the tick with tweezers as near as possible to the skin, hold firmly and pull slowly but steadily out of the skin. 

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services developed a tick-safety guide, and the county includes that information in a “tick kit” that Gale’s department distributes at events, in the office or on request.

The tick kit pouch includes the safety guide, an insect repellent towelette, tweezers, a rubbing-alcohol swab to remind people to wash and then disinfect the bite site, and a small plastic bag to keep the smashed tick in for identification in case of infection.

Gale said prevention is key.

“You want to make sure you’re wearing long-sleeved shirts, long pants, long socks,” she said. “The DHS advises you to tuck the shirt into the pants and or pants into the socks. Some people like to put tape on their pant legs to prevent ticks from walking into their clothes. I’ve seen pant legs taped with the sticky side out.”

She said people should use repellent with DEET on exposed skin and around pant legs. Some hikers spray permethrin on clothing.

She advises hikers to not brush up against tall grass and brush, to stay in the center of walking trails and to check themselves and family members every day if they go outside – “even if it’s just in the lawn.”

“It’s good for the community and the visitors to have it on their radar,” Gale said.

George Krutzik takes precautions, but won’t stop enjoying the outdoors.

“I still live my life,” he said.

Resources

cdc.gov/ticks.

• Door County Medical Center blog tinyurl.com/y5nz4fke

dhs.wisconsin.gov/tick/bite-prevention.htm

co.door.wi.gov/167/Public-Health

Tick Targets: Protect Your Dog

Dr. Jordan Kobilca, veterinarian at Door County Veterinary Clinic, answered a few questions about ticks and Lyme disease:

Peninsula Pulse: Are you seeing more dogs contracting Lyme disease year-round? 

JD: Yes, and not just Lyme disease, but also more cases of anaplasma and other tick-borne diseases.

PP: Our dogs had ticks on them a couple of times this winter. How can that be?

Ticks become active when their body temperature is above 40 degrees F.  This means ticks can be looking for a host not only when the air temps are above 40, but also when the leaf litter or the other areas they are wintering in gets above these temps.

PP: What sorts of symptoms and range long-term effects are there for dogs with Lyme disease? 

JD: Fever, joint pain, lethargy, decreased appetite and kidney disease are the most common.

PP: Do you have any observations or advice to share for pet owners?

JD: A multimodal approach is important for ticks and tick-borne diseases. Having your dogs vaccinated for Lyme disease is important.  I would also use a good quality flea and tick preventative year-round, as Lyme is not the only disease they transmit. Some of the newer oral flea and tick preventatives work faster than the older topicals and may be more effective.