GENOA, WIS.--The number of Lyme disease cases has been on the rise for the past two decades in Wisconsin. Today, researchers from Gundersen Lutheran Hospital went tick-hunting to see just how prevalent they are in our area.
Steve Callister and his research team have gone all over the Midwest tick-hunting since 1985. Each year, they're searching for new Lyme disease carriers and to learn more about how the disease is transmitted.
They normally venture into Northern Wisconsin but today was the first time they really studied the Genoa area.
"We just have been getting a lot of reports of ticks and it's a new direction from La Crosse," said Callister, lead researcher at Gundersen Lutheran. "We haven't gone this direction, more of a straight South or Southeast, and so we're just curious of what the infectivity rates are around here."
Tick beds are usually found in wooded areas or areas with really tall grass and what these researchers are doing is they're hoping to collect ticks not only carrying the Lyme disease but also two lesser-known diseases that could be just as dangerous.
"We've always been very interested in Lyme disease organism and in the past few years we're really re-focused on our efforts on understanding these new organisms called Anaplasma or Ehrlichia," said Callister.
Callister said Anaplasma and Ehrlichia first surfaced back in 2007. Within the next two years he saw more than fifty cases. Although the same deer tick could carry any of these three diseases, because Anaplasma and Ehrlichia infect white blood cells instead of body tissue and joint spaces like Lyme disease does, their side affects are different.
"Mostly fever," said Callister. "Very much flu-like symptoms, people who contract either Ehrlichiosis or Anaplasmosis will know they're sick very rapidly after a tick bite, probably within 48 hours."
Callister said deer ticks that carry more than one of these diseases are generally more dangerous but still treatable with antibiotics.
"They are relatively easy to treat because they stay in the blood and antibiotics are very effective in the blood but I definitely think it makes the person who contracts them very ill and so they're something you don't want to have happen to you if you can prevent it,"said Callister.
Callister and his team stayed out in the woods for roughly four hours Monday, hoping to collect about 800 ticks to take back to the lab. There they can examine the ticks on a molecular level to see if these newer diseases have spread to the Genoa region yet and how fast they're moving.
Wisconsin is home to nearly 1.5 million white-tailed deer, which are the primary host for ticks and Lyme disease.