Infections from ticks, mosquitoes and fleas have tripled in the past 13 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While many people fear bears or snakes, mosquitoes are more harmful and prevalent in today’s society, says Jennifer Chevinsky, MD, a preventive medicine resident physician at Loma Linda University Medical Center.
Mosquitoes carry a variety of diseases such as West Nile virus, Western Equine Encephalitis virus and St. Louis Encephalitis virus, while ticks commonly carry Lyme disease. With more people traveling the world, germs continue to spread leading to new and increasing number of vector-borne diseases in the region, Chevinsky says.
There are steps for every individual and community to protect themselves. One of the most important things is to ensure a community is not creating mosquito breeding grounds, Chevinsky says. This requires the removal of any source of standing water.
Here are her additional tips to protect against these small, yet mighty invaders.
Use EPA-registered insect repellents.
Most ticks reside in grassy, wooded areas, Chevinsky says. If hiking, camping or walking the family pet through a wooded area, it’s best to apply EPA-registered insect repellent before heading out.
Wear protective layers of clothing.
It may not sound ideal for the warm summer weather, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Chevinsky emphasizes covering up the arms, legs and feet when outdoors. Mosquito and tick bites are often found on the arms and legs; however, any exposed part of the body is a target for the tiny invaders.
Treat outdoor clothing with permethrin.
Spray permethrin insect repellent on all outdoor clothing, specifically when going on a hike or camping near a wooded area or swamp. It’s safe for both adults and children to use on clothing as needed, but should not be used directly on the skin, Chevinsky says.
Keep doors, window screens closed.
If at all possible, keep all doors and window screens closed. It’s easy for mosquitoes to come into the house and stay for the night, Chevinsky says. Use central air conditioning or keep fans on during the warmer weathers.
Avoid swamps, marshes and ponds.
Mosquitoes enjoy stagnant water. They can even breed in small amounts of water, such as the size of a bottle cap. Chevinsky encourages parents to make sure gutters, kiddie pools and any buckets of water outside the house are emptied.
Check the family pet for ticks.
It’s important to protect the entire family, including dogs and cats, from the terror of ticks. Check for these unwanted guests outside before bringing the dog or cat inside. Maintain monthly flea and tick medication for the family pet to avoid spreading to the larger family.
Symptoms and treatments
If bitten by a mosquito, Chevinsky strongly urges individuals to resist the temptation to scratch. “Scratching the red, itchy bites can cause a break in the skin or allow the opportunity for bacteria to enter and cause an infection,” she says. For quick relief, many people find it helpful to wash the infected area and apply anti-itch creams or take antihistamine medication.
It’s harder to know if a tick has bitten you, Chevinsky says. Typically, most people will spot a tick while undressing or in the shower. The longer an infected tick is left on the body, the more likely it will have the chance to spread diseases. According to Chevinsky, it typically takes at least 24 hours before a tick passes on a disease, that’s why it’s important to check as soon as possible.
Chevinsky recommends removing the pest with clean tweezers and pulling in an upward direction. It’s important to apply antiseptic to the area once the tick has been removed. She advises against using fire, petroleum jelly, nail polish or any other approach that relies on waiting for the tick to slowly fall off.
Mosquitoes and ticks can cause a myriad of diseases, which can present with a variety of symptoms. In general, individuals should identify the following symptoms: rashes, fatigue, nausea, body or joint aches, fevers, severe headaches and confusion. Symptoms may not present for days or weeks after the initial bite, Chevinsky says.
Additional travel safety tips
Talking with a healthcare provider before finalizing travel plans is essential. It’s imperative for women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, as well as those with weakened immune systems, to take all precautions. Some diseases can be especially dangerous, Chevinsky says.
- Check the CDC website for the latest disease updates
- Discuss with your healthcare provider about increased risk for vector-borne diseases
- Wear protective clothing
- Use insect repellent
- Receive recommended vaccinations
- Take suggested medications as prescribed
Keep in mind, mosquitoes and ticks prefer warm, humid weather. Peak times to avoid mosquitoes are the early morning and evening hours; however, they can bite at any time of the day or night, Chevinsky says.
The safest way to protect against mosquitoes, ticks or fleas is to keep covered and avoid their breeding grounds when possible. Don’t let these buggers ruin summer plans — take informed steps to fight them off before they attack.