DHS Announces New Tick Identification Service

Aug 1, 2022 | News, Wildlife

By Xia Lee, PhD, Public Health Entomologist, and Rachel Klos, DVM, MPH, Vectorborne Disease Epidemiologist, WI Dept. of Health Services 

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) Vectorborne Diseases Program is excited to announce a new DHS Tick Identification Service (dhs.wisconsin.gov/tick/wisconsin.htm). The service utilizes a web-based survey tool hosted on the DHS website where members of the public can submit an image of a tick found on themselves, a family member, their pet or wildlife (e.g., deer). 

To use the new service, a person simply needs to upload a clear image of a tick and complete a few survey questions about where the tick was found. The DHS team will then identify submitted tick images and provide timely guidance on what to do after a tick bite. Tick identification, however, should not be used to guide decisions about disease diagnosis or treatment. 

Close up photo of adult female deer tick crawling on piece of straw

DHS is also excited to announce the hiring of Xia Lee, a new public health entomologist, who will work with local health departments, academic institutions and other partners to better understand and reduce the risk of vectorborne diseases in Wisconsin. So far, Xia’s surveillance of the blacklegged (deer) tick (Ixodes scapularis) at sentinel sites throughout Wisconsin this summer has found stable tick numbers that are lower than those collected during the summer of 2021, but within the normal range of tick numbers found historically at these sites. 

Wisconsin routinely reports some of the highest incidences of human tick-borne diseases in the United States is one of just 16 states classified as high incidence for lyme disease by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While at least 16 species of ticks can be found throughout Wisconsin, three are of primary medical importance in the spread of disease to people—the blacklegged (deer) tick, the American dog (wood) tick (Dermacentor variabilis) and the lone star tick (Amblyomma americanum)

Recent reports have confirmed the presence of the blacklegged (deer) tick in all Wisconsin counties, with tick encounters occurring in a variety of outdoor settings, including residential yards. In addition, the lone star tick has been expanding into Wisconsin. 

The blacklegged (deer) tick is responsible for transmitting the causative agent of lyme disease along with pathogens that cause anaplasmosis, babesiosis and Ehrlichia muris eauclairensis infections to people in Wisconsin. However, studies have shown that most people are not able to correctly identify the blacklegged (deer) tick. Knowledge about ticks and which tick species spread disease is key to preventing tick-borne infections. 

More information about ticks can be found on the DHS website at dhs.wisconsin.gov/tick/wisconsin.htm. The DHS Tick Identification Service is a continuation of a similar service provided previously by the Medical Entomology Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.