Preventing Tick-borne Illnesses

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With warm weather enticing hikers into Wisconsin’s wild spaces, it’s a good time to consider how to prevent tick-borne illnesses while recreating outdoors. Tick-borne illnesses typically first cause flu-like symptoms and usually can be treated with antibiotics if caught early. Untreated, they may cause serious health problems, including death in rare cases. Information on tick-borne illnesses and tips to prevent tick exposure can be found below.

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There are several species of ticks that are present in Wisconsin. Some have a higher risk of carrying tick-borne illnesses than others. Click on the photo for more information tick species and distribution in the US. Photo courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Lyme disease is caused by bacteria that are transmitted to humans by the bite of infected deer ticks. The deer tick, at its largest, is only about half the size of the common wood tick—about the size of a pinhead or speck of black pepper. Symptoms may include a characteristic “bull’s-eye” rash and flu-like symptoms such as fever, malaise, fatigue, headache, muscle aches and joint aches. Infrequently, Lyme disease may have long-term severe, chronic and disabling effects, but it is rarely, if ever, fatal.

Ehrlichiosis is also caused by bacteria transmitted by certain species of ticks. Symptoms generally include fever, headache, malaise and muscle aches. Other signs and symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, cough, joint pains, confusion and occasionally a rash, particularly in children. Ehrlichiosis can be a severe illness, especially if untreated, and as many as half of all patients require hospitalization. It can be fatal.

Ticks are typically most active in Wisconsin from May to September, but taking preventive measures year-round is wise. The following “6 Tips Reduce Exposure to Ticks” can help lower the risk of acquiring these and other possible tick-related infections:

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Prompt removal of ticks can drastically reduce the chance of disease transmission. If a tick is found:

    1. Remove it by grasping it as close to the skin as possible with a narrow-bladed tweezers.
    2. Pull straight out slowly and firmly until the tick lets go.
    3. After removing it, thoroughly wash the site with soap and water or rubbing alcohol. Apply an over-the-counter antibiotic cream like Neosporin or Bacitracin.
    4. Save the tick in a jar or plastic bag and make a note of the day you removed it.
    5. If you develop any flu-like symptoms, fever or rash over the next thirty days, visit your doctor for any necessary follow-up care and treatment.
    6. Tell your doctor when and where you may have come into contact with the tick.


Dogs are also susceptible to tick bites and to some tickborne diseases, and may also bring ticks into your home. Remember to treat dogs for ticks. Talk to your veterinarian about the best tick prevention products for your dog and other pets.

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Visit these websites for more information on ticks and tick-borne illnesses:

Want to be part of an ongoing tick study in the Midwest?

The Tick App is a smartphone application created by researchers from Columbia University and the University of Wisconsin – Madison. The study is funded by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Regional Centers for Excellence in Vector-Borne diseases.

The app was created to allow people living in high-risk areas for Lyme disease to participate in a tick exposure and human behavior study. The data provided will help researchers design integrated control strategies to prevent diseases transmitted by ticks.

It also includes information to help you identify the different tick species, ways to prevent tick exposure, and more material to learn about ticks and the diseases they transmit.

For more about the study, check out The Tick App website!

The Tick App Logo

This article is adapted from “Special Concern: Tick-borne Illnesses” by Sharon Dziengel in the 2020-2022 Edition of the Ice Age Trail Guidebook.