With the warm temperatures and sun shining, summertime is a great time to be outside enjoying nature. Yet, warm weather and outdoor living also means health hazards related to warm weather activities, including exposure to vectors such as ticks and mosquitoes. The number of mosquitoes and ticks that are actually capable of causing infection in humans is relatively small, but it is always advisable to take preventive measures to protect yourself.
While mosquito-transmitted disease is not as common in Missouri as it is in tropical climates, there are several diseases of potential concern. Residents who travel to other countries can also return with more tropical diseases.
West Nile virus is the most commonly reported mosquito-transmitted disease in Missouri. Most people infected with West Nile virus show no symptoms or flu-like symptoms, while some have more severe illness. Other diseases sometimes associated with mosquitoes are St. Louis encephalitis, malaria, and Dengue fever.
Most mosquito bites are harmless, but occasionally a mosquito bite causes a large area of swelling, soreness and redness. If mosquito bites seem to be associated with more-serious signs and symptoms, such as fever, headache and body aches, contact your doctor.
Ticks can cause many diseases, but ehrlichiosis, tularemia, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Q-fever, Lyme disease and the Southern Tick Associated Rash Illness are those most often seen in Missouri. The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services says that more human diseases are caused by ticks than any other insect in the United States.
The Lone Star tick and the American dog tick are the two most common ticks in Missouri, and most often transmit ehrlichiosis, tularemia, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. It’s important to know that since not all ticks are infected, not every tick bite will result in a disease.
If you or your family spends a lot of time outside, a daily tick check should be performed on yourself, your children and your pets. Take special care to check under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, the back of the knees, in all head and body hair, and around the waist.
If a tick is found, a quick removal can help prevent illness. To remove a tick, use fine-tipped tweezers to grab the head as close to the skin and pull straight up with a steady motion. Never squeeze or pull the body.
The common symptoms associated with tick-borne illness are sudden high fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache and body aches. Symptoms vary with each individual.
Prevention is similar for both ticks and mosquitoes. There are no vaccines available to protect against vector-borne diseases. The only way to protect yourself is to avoid exposure by following the tips suggested below.
• Wear long pants and long-sleeved, light-colored protective clothing, long socks, and a wide-brimmed hat to keep ticks off of you and make any of them easier to spot
• Adults should apply insect repellents with 20-50 percent DEET or permethrin on exposed skin
• Repellents with 10 percent DEET can be used on children 6 months and older
• Walk in the center of the trail to avoid overhanging brush and tall grass
• Remove areas of standing water around your home (buckets, tires, etc.), where mosquitoes can breed
• Avoid outdoor activity at peak mosquito feeding times (dawn and dusk)
• Do not wear perfume or cologne outdoors
• Install or repair window and door screens to keep out mosquitoes
• Keep grass cut short so adult mosquitoes will not hide there
• Remove leaf litter
• Keep playground equipment, decks, and patios away from yard edges and trees
Free prevention materials are available at MDHSS’ website: http://health.mo.gov/living/healthcondiseases/communicable/tickscarrydisease/prevention.php
For more information, contact the Independence Health Department at 816-325-7185.
*Information provided by Centers for Disease Control and the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.
Larry Jones, MPH, is the director of the Independence Health Department.