Although summer will soon come to a close, it is too soon to let our guard down around ticks and mosquitoes, whose active season continues well into the fall. Late summer and early autumn are typically the time of year when we see the peak number of insect-borne diseases. Insect-borne (also known as “vector-borne”) diseases are illnesses that arise from insect bites. The most common insects that spread disease are mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas. For example, mosquitoes are known for spreading the Zika and West Nile viruses as well as malaria (a parasitic disease). Ticks are known to spread Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and ehrlichiosis.
So far this year, we have seen a slight increase over last year’s numbers of tick-borne diseases in the Roanoke City and Alleghany Health Districts (RCAHD). In addition, in mid-August, RCAHD received a report of a case of West Nile virus.
We have learned that prevention is crucial to reduce insect-borne diseases. In many cases, simple precautions can significantly reduce, if not entirely prevent, the risk of transmission.
What causes insect-borne diseases?
The diseases are caused by blood-sucking insects that infect humans when they bite. Your risk of being infected by an insect increases when you are in areas where they gather. This includes tall grass, bushes, spots near still water (ponds), and places around the world with heavy outbreaks.
Can insect-borne diseases be prevented or avoided?
There are many actions you can take to reduce the threat of being infected by an insect such as using approved insect repellent. DEET is an effective insect repellent.
To decrease the risk of tick bites:
- Avoid tall grass and bushes
- Wear long pants, long sleeves, and a hat if you must be in tall grass and bushes
- Wear light-colored clothing to make it easier to spot ticks
- Avoid overgrown brush by walking in the center of the trail, and remove brush from personal residences
- Examine your skin and scalp to check for ticks. Prompt removal of ticks can dramatically reduce the risk of tick-borne illness.
To decrease the risk of mosquito bites:
- Drain or change standing water on your property. Keep rain gutters clear. Change bird bath water every week.
- Avoid prime feeding times including dawn and dusk
- Wear long pants, long sleeves, and a hat if you are in areas where mosquitoes are present
Insect-borne disease treatment
As soon as you recognize a bite, clean it with soap and water. Pat it dry and apply rubbing alcohol.
If you find an attached tick, remove the tick immediately before cleaning the area. Be very careful not to squeeze the body of the tick or to leave any part of the tick in your skin. Dispose of the tick. Wash your hands and the bite area with soap and water and wipe with alcohol.
If you have symptoms such as a bulls-eye rash, fever, or body aches, please see your doctor. Your doctor may give you a prescription for antibiotic medicine.
Finally, it is important to keep in mind that animals can also get insect-borne diseases. Keep grass cut and underbrush thinned in yards you and your animals use. Ask your veterinarian to recommend tick control methods to help keep your animals safe. Keep these tips in mind to help protect yourself and your communities from the diseases caused by mosquitoes, ticks, and other vectors.