Lyme Disease

What is Lyme disease?

  • Lyme disease is an illness caused by a bacterium, that is transmitted by a blacklegged (or deer) tick. Lyme disease may cause symptoms affecting the skin, nervous system, heart and/or joints of an infected individual.
  • Over 20,000 cases of the disease have been reported in Wisconsin since surveillance for Lyme disease began in 1980.

Who gets Lyme disease?

  • Males and females of all ages get Lyme disease.
  • People who spend time outdoors in tick-infested environments are at an increased risk of exposure. Most cases have reported an exposure to ticks during the months of May through August, but exposure can occur whenever the temperature at ground level is warm enough for ticks to be active.

How is Lyme disease spread?

  • The disease is transmitted through a tick bite. The deer ticks that transmit Lyme disease bacterium become infected when the immature stage of the tick feeds on infected field mice.
  • The tick must be attached to a person's skin for 24-48 hours before it can transmit the bacterium. The bite of the tick is usually painless.


  • Wear a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, and high socks with pant cuffs tucked into the socks. Light colored clothing will make ticks easier to find. Walk in the center of mowed trails to avoid brushing up against vegetation.
  • Conduct thorough "tick checks" on yourself and your children after spending time outdoors. Prompt removal of ticks, even after they have attached, can drastically reduce the chance of Lyme disease transmission.
  • Insect repellents containing 0.5% permethrin or 20-30% DEET have been shown to be effective in repelling deer ticks. If such products are used, be sure to follow the manufacturer's directions on the label.

How should a tick be removed?

  • To remove an attached tick, grasp it with narrow-bladed tweezers or forceps as close as possible to the skin, and pull upward and out with a firm and steady tension. If tweezers are not available, use fingers shielded with tissue paper or rubber gloves. Do not handle with bare hands. See the picture below for proper removal technique.

lyme tick removal

What are the symptoms of Lyme disease?

  • The illness usually occurs during the summer months and often starts as a roughly circular reddish rash around or near the site of the tick bite. The rash expands in size over a period of days or weeks. Please see the picture below. During the rash stage, other symptoms such as fever, headache, fatigue, stiff neck, muscle and/or joint pain may be present. These may last for several weeks.

lyme rash

  • If left untreated, within a few weeks to months after the rash onset, complications such as meningitis, facial palsy, heart abnormalities, and arthritis may occur. Swelling and pain in the large joints may recur over several months or years in untreated Lyme disease.

How soon until symptoms appear?

  • The early symptoms usually begin within a month of exposure. The later arthritic, cardiac and neurologic problems can take weeks to months to appear.

What is the treatment for Lyme disease?

  • The disease is treated with oral or injectable antibiotics.



lyme tick sizes

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