Mosquito and tick prevention: How to avoid getting bitten

rocky-mountain-wood-tick

Warm summer days means more time outdoors as we take advantage of the weather and longer daylight hours. Unfortunately, the nicer weather also brings out ticks and mosquitoes. A bite from either can cause diseases that might seriously impact 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, you should learn more about the diseases associated with local ticks and mosquitoes. In Idaho, public health officials are most concerned about West Nile virus, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, tick-borne relapsing fever, and tularemia.

What about Lyme disease?

We often hear about Lyme disease in the national media, but cases in Idaho are rare and mostly occur in people who traveled to other areas of the country where infected ticks have been found. The tick that carries Lyme disease is not known to live in Idaho, but since cases are tracked by where a person lives rather than where they were infected, Idaho will have some cases over the years, usually in people returning from trips in the eastern or midwestern U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is an excellent resource if you want to learn more about the risks of insect bites in a different state or country.

What are some of the symptoms of the diseases ticks and mosquitoes transmit in Idaho?

Most of these diseases cause a fever, and some can cause a rash. For example, most people infected with West Nile virus will not have any symptoms, but about 20 percent or so will develop illness that could be anywhere from mild to serious and may include fever, headache, body aches, a rash, and swollen glands. Some people might develop serious illness infecting the brain or spinal cord. People most at-risk are those older than 50 and those who have underlying medical conditions or weakened immune systems. For those with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, fevers and chills, headaches, confusion, and a rash can begin a few days after the other symptoms start.

What are the best ways to prevent tick and mosquito bites?

  • 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.
  • Avoid mosquito bites by staying indoors or wearing long pants and long-sleeved shirts if you’re outside. Ticks will be more visible if you wear light-colored clothing.
  • Check for and remove ticks from your clothing, body, hair, and pets when you have been outside.
  • 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?

If a tick is biting you, use a fine tweezers or notched tick extractor to remove it as close to the skin as possible without squeezing or crushing it. Disinfect the bite site and wash your hands with soap and water. If you have any of the symptoms we just discussed, see your medical provider immediately. Early treatment 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.

(Note: A Closer Look At Your Health airs most Tuesdays at around 6:50 a.m. This a slightly edited transcript of the segment from June 18.) 

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