SUPERIOR, Wis. — A specialized medical diagnostic reference laboratory has spent the last several years collecting more than 2,000 ticks and studying tick-borne illnesses with some surprising results.
Coppe Laboratories of Waukesha, just west of Milwaukee, had contributions from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource and private citizens to collect the ticks.
The goal of the research was focused on determining what percentage of ticks carry the bacteria that causes Lyme disease and what other organisms might be present. The testing revealed that not only the borrelia bacteria (Lyme disease) was present in many of the ticks, but the powassan/deer tick virus infected some as well.
Of special note, in certain “hyper-endemic” regions of northwest Wisconsin, more than half the ticks were infected with the Lyme disease bacteria and powassan was present in a large number.
Wisconsin has the highest incidence of tick-borne diseases in the Midwest, but the northeast region of the United States ranks highest overall.
“Results of this study show that the ticks across Wisconsin have the potential for transmitting multiple infectious agents in a single bite,” said Dr. Konstance Knox, chief executive officer of Coppe Labs.
“The powassan virus is an emerging tick-borne illness in the United States, but its cousin the tick-borne encephalitis virus, has long been recognized to cause significant illness in Europe.”
Powassan virus can infect within 15 minutes of the tick bite.