What has 8 legs, feeds on mammals, can live eight months without food, and carries diseases? If your answer was a deer tick, you are correct! The Ixodes scapularis tick, or the deer tick, feeds on the white-tailed deer, and can spread diseases to humans through bites, or even blood transfusions.
Most people are aware of Lyme disease, as it is the most commonly reported vector-borne disease in the United States. According to the Wisconsin Department of Public Health, there have been more than 7,100 Lyme disease reports in Wisconsin during 2011, 3,609 of those being probable or confirmed cases, compared to the average of 440 annual confirmed cases during the 1990s. The increased incidence can likely be attributed to the expanding population and geographic range of the deer tick. Signs of infection usually include a bullseye-shaped rash and flu-like symptoms which can morph into a chronic disease if not treated.
The deer tick can also spread a disease called Babesiosis, a malaria-like parasitic disease that infects the red blood cells. The number of reported cases of Babesiosis has increased 2.5 times, with about 46 cases in 2011, compared to 18 in 2010. The Wisconsin Division of Public Health has reported 93 confirmed cases from 2007-2011 alone. Infection with Babesiosis can range from asymptomatic infection to severe illness or death. There is increased pressure on physicians to increase suspicion for this disease, and issue prompt diagnosis and treatment, which could be life-saving, especially amongst the elderly.
Here are 5 preventative steps can be taken to avoid being bit and infected by a disease-carrying deer tick:
1. When outdoors, always wear a DEET-containing tick repellent.
2. Wear long pants and socks whenever possible.
3. Check your body for ticks daily.
4. Shower soon after being outdoors.
5. Be observant when walking through foliage or tall grass, as ticks like to hang out on the tips of the grass and try to hitch a ride on the legs of passersby.
If you develop a fever or rash, do not hesitate to call a doctor.