Keep your family healthy this summer with insect repellant. Whaaat? This summer, insects are going to be especially pesky, if not downright deadly.
During the last 14 years, nine new germs that cause disease have been introduced into the United States. The germs are carried by infected mosquitoes and ticks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). During this time, there’s been a three-fold increase in reported diseases from infected mosquito, tick #TickBorneDiseases and flea bites. Diseases reported from tick bites alone have doubled since 2004. #Lyme Although there’s been a steady increase in disease cases since 2004, the number doubled in just one year, from 2015 to 2016. This summer promises to be another record-setter for diseases caused by insects.
Over the past 20 years, epidemics from mosquito-borne diseases #Zika are happening more frequently. Part of this increase is because our public health system is not fully prepared to respond and protect people. Local and state health departments face an increased demand to respond, often with no additional funds to do so. The director of the CDC says that although local agencies are our first line of defense, they are chronically underfunded. The CDC reports that more than 80 percent of the organizations that control these potentially deadly pests need improvement in one or more of the five core competencies, such as testing for pesticide resistance.
Another reason for the disease surge is warmer weather. Many scientists point to climate change and a warming climate. Warmer weather enlarges the geographic area where insects and the diseases they carry can thrive. Warmer weather provides conditions that make it easier for insects to breed and transmit diseases faster. The tick season has expanded from summer to include spring and fall. Extended hot spells permit mosquito-borne diseases outbreaks to be more widespread. Climate change also helps the mouse population grow and researchers think mice are the main source of tick infection.
Other causes of increased disease cases include a lack of vaccines, suburban sprawl, and more international travel and commerce they spread disease through human carriers, according to the CDC. Ticks need the blood of rodents and deer to survive. These animals have increased as their habitat has changed due to human expansion into formerly wooded or wild areas. Other factors include less deer hunting and the disappearance of rodents’ natural predators like fox.
The most effective way to avoid these diseases is to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes, ticks and fleas. Here are the best tips from the CDC and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Bites from infected mosquitoes can cause the Zika virus, West Nile virus, Chikungunya virus, dengue fever, yellow fever, encephalitis and malaria. Most people do not become sick after a bite from an infected mosquito, but some people have a short-term illness that may include high fever, headache, vomiting, fatigue, muscle and joint pains. Severe, long-term illness is rare although these diseases can cause death in severe cases.
- Use insect repellant before going outside, especially during times when mosquitoes are active – at dawn, dusk and evening. Be sure your repellant is EPA-registered and contains at least one of the active ingredients approved and tested for effectiveness by the EPA (DEET, Picaridin, IR 3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, para-menthane-diol and 2-undecanone). This ensures they are safe and effective, even for young children, and pregnant or breastfeeding women.
- Apply and re-apply repellant according to label directions. Do not spray on skin under clothing. Spray on clothing and shoes for best results.
- Apply sunscreen first, if you’re using it, then insect repellant over the sunscreen.
- Do not apply on cut, scratched or irritated skin, on babies younger than two months, and do not use products containing oil of lemon eucalyptus or para-methane-diol on children younger than age 3. Spray repellant onto your hands and then apply to a child’s face.
- Protect babies and children when they’re outside by dressing them in clothing that covers arms and legs. Cover cribs, strollers and baby carriers with mosquito netting.
- Treat clothing and shoes with permethrin; don’t use it directly on skin.
- Cover all windows and doors with screens.
- Empty items outside your home that hold water, such as potted plant saucers, birdbaths, fountains, old tires, buckets, toys and wading pools to keep mosquitoes from breeding there. Do this at least weekly and after a rain.
- Clean areas where mosquitoes rest, especially dark, humid places such as under patio furniture, leaf piles, canvas coverings over boats or outdoor grills.
- Keep roof gutters clean and downspouts free-running; drain flat roofs.
Ticks can carry many bacteria, viruses and fungi, which can all be transmitted in a single bite. Lyme disease (LD) is the most dangerous tick-borne disease. Researchers have identified more than 12 types of LD and related conditions and they are increasing in number. About half of LD-infected patients have at least one co-infection. The most common are Babesia, Bartonella, Ehrlichia, Mycoplasma, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Anaplasma and Tularemia. Co-infections cause more severe illness, more symptoms and a longer recovery.
LD is the fastest growing infectious disease in the United States. The most effective method to prevent these diseases is to never let a tick touch you and certainly not bite you. You cannot feel a tick bite because tick saliva contains a substance that numbs skin. Tick saliva also fights your body’s immune system, giving the tick’s germs a better chance of infecting you. Less than 20 percent of LD-infected persons remember having a tick bite.
To avoid tick bites, the International Lyme Association recommends these precautions:
- Prevent all contact with ticks by spraying shoes, clothing and exposed skin with repellent during tick season – from early spring through fall. June, July and August are the peak months for LD infections. Those who sprayed their footwear had 74 percent fewer tick bites.
- Wear insect repellent whenever you are gardening, doing yard work or any activities in the woods or long grass. Repellents containing DEET, permethrin, picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus are most effective. Natural insect repellents using essential oils are also available to deter ticks.
- Wear light-colored clothes and shoes to see ticks better.
- Cover bare skin with socks, shoes that cover the feet (no sandals), long pants tucked into your socks, and a long-sleeved shirt, tucked in.
- Wear a hat or scarf if you pass under trees; tie back long hair.
- Check yourself frequently for ticks while outside. You can become infected with LD in less than an hour.
- Avoid playing in leaves, gathering firewood and leaning against tree trunks because ticks stay near the ground. Stay on cleared trails instead of walking across grassy fields.
- Undress in a shower stall or dry bathtub, so you can see the ticks that drop off.
- Put all clothing into a dryer immediately, at high heat (185 degrees), for at least six minutes. Then wash in hot (130 degrees) and dry normally. If you wash clothing first, it will not kill many ticks and you will have to dry the clothes in a hot dryer for at least 50 minutes.
- Do a full-body tick check before bathing. Ticks can survive a bath or shower. Pay special attention to underarms, groin, belly button, neck, hair, in and behind ears, behind knees, and wherever clothing fits snuggly, such as a waistband. Feel for ticks or use a mirror if you don’t have anyone to check your back. Parents should check their children for ticks.
- Check your outdoor pets for ticks frequently. Your veterinarian can advise you about the most effective tick-prevention methods for pets.
- Let landscaping practices help: Keep your grass mowed, remove brush and leaves, and create a three-foot wide barrier of wood chips or mulch between your lawn and wooded areas to restrict tick migration. Ticks like grassy, wooded and leaf-covered areas and dark wet places. They can also fall from trees.
- Get rid of mice as soon as you see them or their droppings. Mice are the primary way that ticks get LD. Prevent mice by eliminating all food sources. Be very careful that food scraps are disposed of in a secure bin. Keep rubbish and stored lumber or firewood away from your home. Mice and rats like dark, moist places so try to eliminate them around your home and any outbuildings. Permanently seal or repair any holes that are ¾ inch on the outside of your home that would let rodents enter, including pipes and conduits.
- Remove a tick that bites you immediately. Removing ticks correctly is very important because it helps you avoid infections. Here’s the best method:
- Grasp the tick’s body firmly, as close to your skin as possible, using a fine-pointed tweezers.
- Pull the tick’s head straight out, using steady even pressure, without twisting.
- Dispose of the tick by flushing down the toilet.
- Disinfect the bite site and wash your hands after removing a tick.
- Use a credit card to slide under the tick in an emergency. Press upward at the mouth until the tick pulls itself out.
- Never use a hot match, Vaseline, liquid soap, nail polish, nail polish remover, lighter fluid or other chemicals to remove the tick. These incorrect removal methods can make the tick vomit germs into your blood. The germs that cause LD and related infections are in the tick’s gut, not its mouth.
Visit this blog for more details about Lyme disease symptoms, treatment and prevention.
Fleas are known to carry the bubonic plague, which killed up to 90 percent of the people in some areas of Europe during medieval times. Although the plague remains rare, a few cases a year are reported in the Southwestern United States. It can be cured with antibiotics.
Fleas can also carry typhus and serve as a host for tapeworms that can infest people when their pets have fleas. Fleas also host heartworms that affect dogs.
To control fleas:
- Treat everything – all pets and their indoor and outdoor living areas – at one time. A retreatment is necessary because insecticides do not kill fleas in the pre-emergent stage.
- Deep clean to remove as many fleas and their eggs as possible before you use insecticides. This means vacuuming all carpets, rugs, cushioned furniture, floor cracks and crevices, along baseboards and in basements. Then steam clean carpet and rugs. Pay special attention to areas where your pets spend most of their time, both indoors and outdoors.
- Wash all pet and human bedding in hot, soapy water. Dispose of pet bedding if the infestation is severe.
- Use a flea comb on pets, especially the neck and tail areas where most fleas congregate. Put adult fleas in hot, soapy water to kill them.
- Remove flea-friendly areas outside your home by keeping your lawn mowed, leaves raked, and reduce the organic debris from flowerbeds and under bushes.
- Apply insecticide to your pets, and to the inside of your home and outdoor areas. Reapply to heavily infested areas. Your entire lawn may also need treatment if the infestation is severe. Consider a professional pesticide company to apply pesticides to your home and lawn.
To learn more
Visit these websites:
Lymedisease.org is an advocacy, education and research organization
Ilads.org is the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society
Arklf.com is the Arkansas Lyme Foundation