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Tips for dealing with ticks and mosquitoes

March 19, 2011

As spring returns with its warmer and longer days it’s not only a time for fishing, beautiful flowers and chirping birds. It is the time when ticks and mosquitoes start making their return as well. These tiny insects can carry diseases such as Lyme and West Nile virus, which can be contracted by humans. So this year, be prepared when you head out to enjoy all the wonderful things spring has to offer.

Ticks are very common for us up here in the north woods, but can also be found in most of the United States. The three most commonly found ticks in the United States are the black-legged (deer), lone star, and American dog ticks. The wood tick is very common to our area. All are capable of transmitting disease, as well as in their less distinctive nymph stage. The diseases that these insects may carry include ehrlichiosis, Lyme disease (most commonly reported) and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Early symptoms of tick-borne illnesses may include fever, headache, fatigue and rash.

The following are suggested ways, from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Protect Yourself from Tick-borne Diseases brochure that you can protect yourself from ticks and the diseases they carry.
Recognize the ticks– Know what ticks are in the area you live and the area you are traveling to. Learn to identify these ticks by their size and markings.

  • Avoid areas with lots of ticks – Wooded and brushy areas, especially those with tall grasses, are where ticks like to be during spring and fall, their most active times of year.
  • Keep ticks off your skin – Cover up with light colored clothing, tucking shirts and pant legs in, and applying repellants are ways to deter ticks. (Always use repellants according to manufacturer’s instructions!)
  • Perform tick checks – Thoroughly check clothing and body for ticks and remove them. Be sure to safely remove any embedded ticks with sharp tweezers grabbing the tick close to the skin and gently moving in a straight upward motion to avoid squeezing fluid into the bite site. Wash hands and bite site with soap and water or alcohol-based hand cleaner.
  • Control ticks around your home – Keep leaf litter and brush clear from around the edges of your house, mow your lawn regularly, maintain a buffer zone between yard and woods with gravel or wood chips. Keep decks, patios and play equipment away from the edges of woods and tall grass areas.
  • Protect your pets – Use tick medication or collars on your pets and perform tick checks on them regularly and before they are allowed back indoors.

Mosquitoes are unavoidable in the north woods during our summer months, but there are things we can do to limit our exposure to their bites and potential diseases they may carry. In Wisconsin mosquitoes can carry both the West Nile virus and the La Crosse virus. These viruses can create illnesses of the central nervous system such as West Nile meningitis or encephalitis, children and the elderly are at the highest risk of severe symptoms. Symptoms can include severe headache, high fever, stiff neck, mental confusion, dizziness, slurred speech and convulsion. Wisconsin Department of Health Services has great resources like the Fight the Bite brochure that has tips to avoid mosquitoes such as the following:

  • Use repellants safely by following manufacturer’s directions and don’t apply to children’s hands or allow them to apply their own. It is not recommended to use repellents on children less than 6 months old.
  • Make sure you have window and door screens that are in good repair keeping mosquitoes out of your home.
  • Limit your time outdoors during peak mosquito times of day at dawn and dusk or other peak times.
  • Dispose of items (like tires, recycling bins, birdbaths etc) that retain stagnant water, breeding grounds for mosquitoes.
  • Ensure that gutters and downspouts are clean and drain properly.

Remember, if you develop any of the stated symptoms after being in an area known to have these diseases prevalent and have been bit by either of these insects, contact your healthcare provider. Early detection and treatment is ideal for best treatment success.

Spring is a great time to get out and re-energize after our winters up here. Don’t let ticks and mosquitoes keep you in. With proper planning, knowing what to look for and how to prepare you can minimize your risk of contracting the diseases they carry, and still enjoy the fishing, flowers and chirping birds.

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