Summer is a time when most of us head for the outdoors--even if it’s just our own backyard. The season provides a time to get more exercise, eat fresh produce, and perhaps most importantly lower our stress by enjoying nature. However, experiencing nature can also mean experiencing problems with ticks and mosquitoes! I hope to provide some helpful tips about handling these summer annoyances and keeping you and your loved ones healthy.
Ticks and mosquitoes aren’t just unpleasant—they’re a health hazard. Ticks carry diseases like Lyme disease and more commonly in our area Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and ehrlichiosis. All of these diseases can be associated with a fever, rash, and muscle or joint aches and they can cause serious long term health problems and even be fatal if not diagnosed and treated properly with medication. Mosquitoes can cause painful, itchy bites but also serious viral diseases like West Nile Virus and Zika virus--a virus that has been found to cause birth defects for the babies of pregnant women who are infected. Zika is unfortunately expected to become more prevalent in the United States.
In order to avoid tick and mosquito borne diseases you should practice preventing tick and mosquito bites. I advise you to wear long pants when you plan to be in tall grasses or wooded areas where ticks live or outside at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are prevalent. You should use insect repellant on exposed skin and even on your clothes; natural products made from essential plant oils have limited effectiveness and DEET containing products are considered the best defense against biting outdoor pests. Please take note that insect repellants are NOT advised for children less than two months of age and children of any age should only use insect repellants that contain no more than 30% of a chemical called DEET. Although research is limited, DEET containing products are deemed safe at this time for pregnant women to use especially after the first trimester. Women who are pregnant or considering pregnancy can use these products, as should their sexual partners, as the Zika virus is also spread by sexual contact.
After being outside you should do a thorough check of all parts of the body for ticks. If a tick is removed within 24 hours after biting, the odds of disease transmission is low and you do not need to seek medical attention or get any kind of preventative treatment if you are symptom free. Ticks should be removed whole with clean tweezers taking special care to remove the embedded head. DO NOT burn ticks off or smother ticks with nail polish or other creams, as these techniques do not work and can cause harm.
After mosquito bites occur you can apply an over the counter cream containing hydrocortisone if needed to stop itching and inflammation; unfortunately not much can be done to prevent disease transmission after mosquito bites. Wash all types of bites thoroughly after they occur and avoid scratching.