As the weather warms up, more of us are getting outdoors with our families and pets for fun and exercise. Unfortunately, the nicer weather also brings out ticks and mosquitoes. A bite from one of these not-so-delightful creatures can cause disease and have a serious impact on your health. It’s important to do everything you can to avoid getting bitten.
Tick- and mosquito-borne diseases can vary by region in the United States. Besides West Nile virus, are there other insect-borne diseases we should be informed about in Idaho?
That is a great question – before you head into the outdoors for camping, hiking, and other kinds of recreation, you should learn more about the illnesses possibly carried by local ticks and mosquitoes. In Idaho, public health officials tend to be most concerned West Nile virus, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, tick-borne relapsing fever, and tularemia. Other rare infections can occur after an insect bite, but these are the top four. Cases of Lyme disease in Idaho are rare and mostly occur in people who traveled to other areas of the country where infected ticks have been found. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is an excellent resource if you want to learn more about the risks of insect bite while outdoors in a different state or country.
What are some of the symptoms of those diseases?
Most people infected with West Nile virus will not have any symptoms, but about 20 percent or so will develop a mild to severe illness that may include fever, headache, body aches, a rash, and swollen glands. Serious illness infecting the brain or spinal cord can occur for some people, especially those older than 50 and those who have underlying medical conditions or weakened immune systems.
For most tick-borne-diseases the signs and symptoms are not specific; people can experience fever, headache and muscle aches, or fatigue. Some infections, such as Lyme disease, can lead to distinctive rashes or sores depending on the illness.
What are the best ways to prevent tick and mosquito bites?
- Avoid mosquito bites by staying indoors or wearing long pants and long-sleeved shirts if you’re outside.
- For both mosquitoes and ticks, use insect repellent approved by the EPAon exposed skin and clothing. Follow instructions on the product label, especially if you’re applying it to children.
- Ticks will be more visible if you wear light-colored shirts and pants outdoors.
- Check for and remove ticks from your clothing, body, hair, and pets when you have been in tick habitat.
- If a tick is biting you, use a fine tweezers or notched tick extractor to remove itas close to the skin as possible. Pull upward with a steady, even pressure, being careful not to break off the head or squeeze, crush, or puncture the body of the tick. Disinfect the bite site and wash your hands with soap and water.
- Talk to your veterinarian about tick prevention products for your pets. Ticks can hitch a ride on your pet and end up in your home.
When should you seek medical attention?
For tick bites, see your medical provider immediately if you have any of the symptoms we just discussed. Early recognition and treatment of these infections reduces the risk of complications.
There is no specific treatment for West Nile virus, but hospitalization and treatment of symptoms may improve the chances of recovery for those with severe infections. There is no vaccine for humans, but there is for horses, who, like humans, can become seriously ill if infected.
A Closer Look at Your Health airs weekly on Boise’s KBOI-670 AM; this is a transcript of the May 8, 2018 program.