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Tickborne Illnesses

Gundersen's Infectious Disease department has long been a leader in the research, diagnosis and treatment of tick bites and tickborne illnesses, such as Lyme disease. Ticks are tiny bloodsucking parasites that live in wooded and brushy areas. Some ticks are so small they may be hard to see. Many tick species can transmit disease to people and animals. Common tickborne illnesses include:

Lyme disease

Lyme disease, a bacterial infection carried by deer ticks. You may not realize you have Lyme disease because the tick is very small and easily overlooked. Symptoms include:

  • A skin rash that often looks like a bull’s-eye, but can be a solid red, oval patch
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle pain, stiffness and swelling of joints

Most often Lyme disease can be treated with antibiotics. If Lyme disease isn’t treated right away, it can spread to joints, heart and nervous system.


Babesiosis, caused by microscopic parasites that infect red blood cells. Deer ticks typically carry this parasite. Although more common in animals, there have been cases of babesiosis in people. Symptoms can include:

  • Fever and chills
  • Weakness and tiredness
  • Headache
  • Joint and muscle aches

If you have a healthy immune system and a mild case of babesiosis, you often won’t need any treatment. The body fights the infection on its own. But for some, babesiosis can develop into a serious, even life-threatening condition. You should get medical care as soon as possible if you are elderly or have:

  • A weakened immune system
  • A spleen that does not function properly
  • Other serious health condition(s)

Human granulocytic anaplasmosis (HGA)

Human granulocytic anaplasmosis (HGA), previously known as ehrlichiosis or ehrlichia, usually takes about 7-9 days for the start of symptoms:

  • Fever and chills
  • Headache and muscle aches
  • Nausea
  • Cough
  • Skin rash

Often treated with antibiotics, you’ll usually see improvement in 24-48 hours after starting treatment. It can take at least three weeks to fully recover.

Steps to take to avoid ticks and tickborne illnesses:

  • Avoid areas with long grasses, dense brush and wooded areas where ticks live
  • Use insect repellants with DEET
  • Wear long sleeves, pants and socks to cover the skin; tuck pants into socks
  • Wear light-colored clothing to see ticks more easily
  • Check for ticks thoroughly after being outside and carefully remove any ticks immediately
  • Common tick bite areas include the belt or bra line, back of the knees, groin, underarms, ears, hair line of the neck and in your hair
  • To remove attached ticks, use a tweezers to grab the tick by the head, as close as possible to the skin. A lit match, petroleum jelly and other methods are not effective and can be harmful

Tick identification cards

Many tick species can transmit illnesses to people and animals. Both the type of ticks and the diseases they carry vary across North America. For instance, there is a higher incidence of Lyme disease in our area (upper Midwest).

To help prevent tickborne illnesses, learn how to identify ticks in your area. The Tick Identification Card provides information about different types of ticks and the diseases they may carry. We offer northern, southern and western versions of the Tick Identification Card as shown. See an example card.

There is a small charge of just $.05 each for quantities up to 5,000 and $.04 cents each for 5,000 or more, plus shipping and handling.

For more information about the Tick Identification Card™ or to order cards, contact Lauren Ihrke at (608) 775-9388 or

what to expect

We've taken steps at all our locations to keep you and our staff healthy and safe. Here's what to expect when you visit us.

Stay safe