Ticks and Lyme disease are a way of life in the La Crosse area. Most people know how to recognize the deer tick that causes Lyme and the symptoms of the disease. Most doctors know what to look for in the disease and how to treat it.
Ticks and Lyme probably don't always get the respect and attention they deserve, said Dave Geske, vector control officer for the La Crosse County Health Department.
"There is some complacency with ticks and Lyme," Geske said. "We all know someone who has had Lyme and has been treated, and they're fine. But it is an ongoing problem."
Geske said there should be a greater public concern about tick-borne disease today because ticks are making their way into our backyards and a new disease, anaplasmosis, is emerging in the La Crosse area.
"People see more ticks in their backyards and they see them on their dogs and children," Geske said. "Small mammals, mice and even rabbits are good hosts of ticks.
"The potential for human disease is greater now with ticks," he said. "In nature, ticks are so well-established and we are surrounded by not-so-healthy wooded areas, and then we add our own backyards to the problem."
People should clear tall grasses and brush around their houses, which can attract unwelcome mammals, and keep their yards mowed and clean, he said.
La Crosse area health officials also are seeing more cases of anaplasmosis, carried by the same deer tick that causes Lyme disease.
Symptoms of anaplasmosis are similar to Lyme, such as fever, headache and body aches, but people don't get a rash with anaplasmosis. Most people feel worse with more severe headaches and body aches than Lyme, according to Dr. Todd Kowalski, a Gundersen Lutheran physician specializing in infectious diseases.
Gundersen Lutheran researchers have been monitoring anaplasmosis the past five years and reported 50 human cases during their first three years of research.
The researchers have developed a test for the disease and have been testing blood samples in Gundersen Lutheran Medical Foundation's microbiology laboratories at the La Crosse Health Science Center.
Steve Callister, the foundation's senior researcher known for his Lyme disease studies, said La Crosse area residents are at an increased risk for anaplasmosis. Callister was out in the field last week collecting ticks.
"We're seeing lots of ticks, and 15 percent are infected with anaplasmosis, and 40 percent with Lyme," Callister said. "We're seeing more cases of anaplasmosis every year, and we're expecting to see even more this year."
Only a few years ago, anaplasmosis was rare in the La Crosse area.
"It's been on our radar for 15 years or more with cases in northern Wisconsin, but the last few years it has been emerging in our area," said Kowalski.
He said anaplasmosis is treated the same way as Lyme - with a tetracycline antibiotic - and the prevention measures are the same for both diseases.
Kowalski said there should be no controversy over the treatment of Lyme disease in the La Crosse area.
"In short, patients are evaluated for symptoms, and if there are clear signs and symptoms, and a positive blood test, we treat with antibiotics," Kowalski said.
Last year Gundersen Lutheran researchers published a study showing a shorter course of antibiotics for 10 days actually was as effective than a long course of drugs if the disease is diagnosed early, Kowalski said.
"Nothing really has changed in treatment, but there is more evidence that a shorter course is sufficient if Lyme is caught early," Kowalski said.
Dr. Margo Sherman, a second-year Mayo family medicine resident at Franciscan Skemp, said early diagnosis can make a big difference.
About 80 percent get the bull's eye rash, and they should see a doctor right away, Sherman said.
"The majority of people with Lyme are caught early," Sherman said. said. "It's much less rare that people are coming in with chronic arthritis.
"People in this area are educated about Lyme because it is so prevalent, and most doctors are well aware of what to do and how to treat it," she said. "But it's still recognizing the problem and getting it diagnosed early."