Mosquito and tick bites can lead to serious illness

Mosquitoes and ticks can carry some pretty serious bugs, like bacteria and viruses. 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?

Before you head into the outdoors, or even into your backyard, 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 typically only occur in people who have traveled to other areas of the country, such as the eastern and midwestern states, where infected ticks have been found. The tick that carries Lyme disease is not known to live in Idaho. 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.

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.

Symptoms for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever include fever and chills, headaches, and confusion. A rash often begins 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 an insect repellent approved by the EPA on 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.
  • Ticks can hitch a ride on your pet and end up in your home. Talk to your veterinarian about tick prevention products for your pets.

When should you seek medical attention?

If a tick is biting you, use a fine-tipped tweezers or notched tick extractor as close to the skin as possible to remove it completely without squeezing or crushing it. Disinfect the bite site and wash your hands with soap and water. If you have any of the symptoms listed above, see a healthcare 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.

Dr. Leslie Tengelsen is the state’s public health veterinarian.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is dedicated to strengthening the health, safety, and independence of Idahoans. Learn more at healthandwelfare.idaho.gov.

Resources:

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