Lyme disease cases on the rise in Rock County

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Ted Sullivan
Sunday, May 22, 2011
— Gracie was a happy and healthy 4-year-old dog who enjoyed walks and tearing around her yard.

Then Gracie changed.

“She could hardly get up from her bed. She could hardly stand,” Sue Hanson of Janesville said of her golden and Labrador retriever mix.

Gracie continued favoring different legs and plopping onto the floor, causing Hanson to take her to a veterinarian.

The diagnosis: Lyme disease.

Lyme disease is on the increase among people in Rock County, and it’s a common diagnosis in their pets, too.

Veterinarian Terence McSweeny of All Creatures Small Animal Hospital in Janesville said about 5 percent of the new patients he tests for Lyme disease have positive results.

Increasingly common in people

Debbie Erickson of the Rock County Health Department said Lyme cases in the county have increased in people, with 48 cases reported in 2010, compared to 28 in 2009.

Statewide, Lyme disease cases totaled 3,495 in 2010, compared to 2,587 in 2009, a 35 percent increase, the state Department of Health Services reported.

Lyme disease impacts the skin, nervous system, heart and joints. It is a bacteria spread through bites from infected deer ticks.

More than 20,000 cases of the disease have been reported in Wisconsin residents since 1980, according to the health services department.

Symptoms of Lyme include fever, aches, arthritic pain and neurological problems, Erickson said. Antibiotics are used to treat the disease.

Most Rock County residents contract Lyme locally, even though the disease is more common in northern Wisconsin, she said.

“We definitely have deer ticks with Lyme in Rock County,” Erickson said. “We have had clients that have had pretty severe side effects from the disease.”

‘Like a miracle’

McSweeny said he screens pets he sees in his office. He said many dogs with positive tests don’t show symptoms. He said the disease leads to kidney failure.

“I think it’s a problem, particularly in this area,” McSweeny said. “I think it’s very important from March through November to have your dog on a flea or tick preventative.”

People and pet owners are becoming more aware of the disease, Erickson and McSweeny said.

Gracie was taken to a veterinarian the same day she showed symptoms and was put on antibiotics, Hanson said.

“It was like a miracle,” Hanson said. “The next day, she showed no signs of lameness.”

Hanson doesn’t like to walk Gracie in the woods behind her house anymore. She said that area is where she likely attracted Lyme.

Since Gracie’s treatment, she has had as much energy as ever, Hanson said.

“It is a happy ending,” she said.


Lyme disease occurs three to 30 days after the bite of an infected tick.

Symptoms in people include rash, fever, chills, fatigue, headache, joint pain and swollen lymph nodes, according to the state Department of Health Services. The disease is treated with antibiotics.

To reduce the chance of getting Lyme disease:

-- Avoid wooded and bushy areas with high grass and leaf litter.

-- Use tick repellants applied according to the label’s instructions.

-- Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants to help shield you from ticks.

-- Landscape homes and recreational areas to reduce the number of ticks. Create tick-safe zones using woodchips or gravel along the border between lawn and wooded areas.

-- Check for ticks frequently.

-- Remove ticks slowly and gently, using a pair of thin-bladed tweezers.

-- Check pets before allowing them inside.

-- Speak to a veterinarian about tick repellant for pets.

Last updated: 5:09 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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