By Stephanie Thiede, Public Health Nurse
The warmer months are upon us, and that means mosquito and tick populations will start to increase. The Health Department wants you to be aware of the diseases that can be spread by these pests, how to prevent exposure, and what to do if bitten.
In Wisconsin, West Nile virus and Lyme Disease are two illnesses spread to humans from these common insects. West Nile virus is spread to humans through the bite of an infected mosquito that has fed on an infected bird. West Nile virus infections in humans have been reported from June through October. Last year, in 2015, there were 4 confirmed cases of West Nile Virus in Wisconsin.
Lyme Disease is caused by a bacteria carried by small deer ticks. In Wisconsin, most people who develop Lyme Disease are exposed to infected ticks between May and August. In 2014, there were 984 confirmed Lyme Disease cases in Wisconsin.
The Langlade County Health Department recommends the following for reducing exposure to both of these insects:
- Apply repellants with 20-30% DEET to exposed skin and clothing according to label instruction.
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants. For extra protection against mosquitoes, wear permethrin-treated clothing and gear. For extra protection against ticks, tuck your pants into the top of your socks or boots.
To prevent exposure to mosquitoes:
- Limit time spent outside at dawn and dusk, when mosquitoes are most active.
- Make sure window and door screens are in good repair to prevent mosquito entry.
- Properly dispose of items that hold water, such as tin cans, plastic containers, ceramic pots, or discarded tires. Turn over wheelbarrows, wading pools, boats, and canoes when not in use.
- Clean roof gutters and downspouts for proper drainage. Landscape to prevent water from pooling in low-lying areas.
- Change the water in birdbaths and pet dishes at least every three days.
- Clean and chlorinate swimming pools, and hot tubs; drain water from pool covers.
- Trim tall grass and weeds since mosquitoes use these areas to rest during daylight hours.
The majority of people who are infected with West Nile virus do not get sick and the disease resolves on its own. Those who do become ill usually experience mild symptoms such as fever, headache, muscle ache, rash, and fatigue. Less than 1% of people infected with the virus can have serious symptoms of high fever, muscle weakness, stiff neck, disorientation, mental confusion, tremors, confusion, paralysis, and coma. The Wisconsin Division of Public Health is responsible for surveillance of West Nile virus. It is the public’s responsibility to report a sick or dead crow, blue jay, or raven by calling the Dead Bird Reporting Hotline at 1-800-433-1610 or the Langlade County Health Department at 715-627-6250.
To prevent exposure to ticks:
- Avoid wooded and bushy areas with tall grass. If you do not wish to avoid these areas, try to stay on a cleared trail if possible.
- Check all areas of the body frequently and carefully for ticks. Keep in mind that deer ticks are small and may be difficult to find. For tips on identification between the different types of ticks, stop by the Health Department for some information.
- Remove ticks promptly. Ticks have to bite and stay attached to the skin for one to two days to transmit Lyme Disease.
- To remove them, use a thin-bladed pair of tweezers and grasp the tick as close as the skin as possible. Pull the tick backwards gently to remove and wash the area. Small tick parts may remain and usually shed without problems. AVOID folk remedies like petroleum jelly, nail polish remover or burning matches—they are not safe and effective ways to remove ticks
- Protect your pets from tick bites by checking them before allowing them inside. While there is a vaccine available for pets to prevent Lyme Disease, it will not prevent the pet from bringing ticks inside the home. In addition to the vaccine, talk to your veterinarian about topical tick repellant for pets.
Lyme Disease is treated with antibiotics, and is more easily treated when detected early. One early symptom of Lyme Disease is a characteristic “bulls-eye” rash, consisting of a reddened area, often with a clear area in the middle, at the original site of the tick bite. However, it is important to note that not everyone with Lyme Disease develops this rash. If someone lives or has spent time in areas where deer ticks are common and develops symptoms such as fever, headache, chills, and pain in the muscles or joints, they should immediately consult their health care provider.
For information about West Nile virus, Lyme Disease and other diseases in our community, contact Langlade County Health Department at 715-627-6250. Excellent internet resources for both types of pests and diseases are below: