WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Avoiding the Summertime Blues from Ticks and Mosquitoes

May 17, 2018

The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDHP) said disease cases from tick and mosquito bites in the state increased 58% from 2005 to 2016.  Director Nirav Shah said simple precautions can help stymie the biting insects.

“Just like everything in the world of healthcare, the best thing is to avoid getting sick in the first place,” said Dr. Shah.

He said ticks tend to hang out on tall blades of grass and then latch onto someone who passes by.  He said to minimize the chances of getting bit:

  • Use insect repellents containing Deet
  • If hiking, walk in the center of trails and try to avoid brushing against tall grasses and weeds
  • Wear light-colored clothing
  • Wear long sleeves and long pants
  • Tuck pants into socks

“Just anything that reduces the amount of skin that you’ve got open that a tick could latch onto,” Shah said.

The IDHP said if you find a tick on yourself or someone else, remove it promptly by grasping it with tweezers as close to the skin as possible and gently – but firmly – pulling it straight out.  Wash your hands and the bite with soap and water.

Diseases from tick bites can cause mild to severe illnesses.  In some cases they can lead to death. A new tick-related virus called Bourbon virus has been found in some parts of the Midwest and South, but Shah said the most common tick-related disease in Illinois continue to be Lyme disease.

“If diagnosed early, Lyme disease is treatable with antibiotics,” he said.

“The signs and symptoms of Lyme disease are things like fevers, chills, (and) aches and pains. And in particular with Lyme disease, (you develop) a really characteristic bullseye rash.”

He said the symptoms can show up any time up to two weeks after being bitten.

Shah said the same techniques used to avoid tick bites can help prevent mosquito bites.  And he said simple steps can be taken to reduce the mosquito population around your property.

“Mosquitoes love and thrive and breed in standing water. So eliminate areas of standing water,” he said.

Shah said cases of mosquito-borne West Nile virus have increased in recent years while other mosquito-related illnesses have decreased. He said it’s too soon to know whether the bugs will be a problem this year. He said mosquitoes carrying West Nile virus like hot and humid weather.

He said most people bitten by an infected mosquito won’t show any symptoms of West Nile virus.  For those who do, the symptoms generally show up three to fourteen days after being bitten.

Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said cases of diseases caused by mosquito, tick, and flea bites tripled in the U-S between 2004 and 2016.