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Preventing illness caused by ticks and mosquitoes

From Lyme disease to the Powassan virus, there are a number of illnesses spread by ticks and mosquitoes. 

While these conditions are dangerous for the general population, for vulnerable demographics, like infants, people with an autoimmune disorder and adults over the age of 60, they pose an even bigger risk. These groups typically have a harder time fighting off infections, which means they may experience worse symptoms or stay sick for longer.

With the warm weather of spring already here and summer just around the corner, the prevalence of ticks and mosquitoes is going to keep growing. And unfortunately, experts are predicting an especially strong year for tick populations this year. Warmer winters mean that ticks are able to start breeding earlier, giving them a longer life span, as well as increasing the habitats for other animals that ticks thrive on. 

What you need to know about tick infestations
Ticks are parasitic bugs that feed on human or animal blood. Ticks are parasitic bugs that feed on human or animal blood. When they find a host, they bite down to attach themselves for feeding, and in a lot of cases can go unnoticed for days or sometimes over a week. There are repellents to use to try and keep them away, but even this won't guarantee avoiding them.

"There are dozens of different tick species living across the U.S."

The Entomology Department at Purdue University reports that there are dozens of different tick species living across the U.S., ranging in different shapes, sizes and colors. Certain species can only be found in isolated spots around the country, and some carry specific diseases.

Ticks are mainly found in grassy or wooded areas. They're small, so they can easily crawl onto pets, people or accessories without being detected. They may attach to someone right away, or can hide out in their clothes before transferring to their host. They can survive for a few days in your home before they actually bite something. 

If you, your loved ones or pets spend even a short amount of time outside, do a visual inspection for ticks upon return. Be sure to also check any objects you bring in from outside, like flowers cut from your garden or camping equipment. 

All ticks are arachnids, so lookout for bugs with eight legs. While some may just be harmless spiders, if you think there's a chance you're dealing with a tick, it's better to be safe than sorry and dispose of it immediately. They are resilient creatures, so your best bet to get rid of them is to flush them down a toilet, soak them in alcohol or pick them up with a piece of tape then securely wrap them in it. Simply stepping on them and then going back about your day may leave them free to wander your home and attach to someone.

If you do find a tick, the CDC recommends that you use tweezers to remove them, so you can get as close to the skin as possible. Don't twist when you pull the tick out, as you could cause the mouth to stay attached. Clean the bite wound with rubbing alcohol right away. If the person who was bitten starts to show any signs of illness in the following days, contact a doctor immediately.

Ticks are found across the country in wooded and grassy areas.Ticks are found across the country in wooded and grassy areas.

Signs of common illnesses
It's possible that your loved ones could be bitten and not even know it, making it harder to look for signs of illness. Additionally, because there is such a wide variety of diseases that can be spread by ticks, symptoms may vary. Many tick-borne illnesses start out looking like just a cold or flu, such as:

  • Powassan virus. ​According to CNN, the rare Powassan virus is expected to spread at elevated rates this year, due to increased tick populations. Found mainly in the Great Lakes region of the U.S., the virus displays flu-like symptoms at first, but in just a few days' time, severe cases can quickly lead to seizures, loss of consciousness and respiratory failure. About 15 percent of people who contract and show signs of Powassan virus will not survive it. 
  • Lyme disease. This illness is also expected to rise this year, reports USA Today. It can begin with a fever, headache and rash at the bite location, but can spread to muscle groups and joints if untreated. It requires a blood test to fully diagnose and antibiotics to treat. Lyme disease could potentially last for up to six months. 

Many tick- and mosquito-borne illnesses can start off looking like a cold or the flu.Many tick- and mosquito-borne illnesses can start off looking like a cold or the flu.

What you need to know about mosquito infestations
Ticks won't be the only bugs around this summer that pose a threat. Mosquitoes can be annoying, but they can also carry a number of dangerous illnesses, such as malaria, dengue fever, West Nile virus, Zika virus and yellow fever. ​They are more likely to carry these diseases in tropical climates, but some illnesses have spread to mosquitoes in the U.S.

  • West Nile virus typically does not cause any symptoms in the people it infects, but for some, it can manifest with fatigue, aches and fever, according to the CDC. In severe cases, it can cause neurological problems that could lead to tremors, paralysis, coma or death. 
  • Zika virus is also typically asymptomatic. Because it can be linked to birth defects, the lack of warning of a Zika infection is problematic for pregnant women. And for older adults, physical ailments of the disease are more likely to form, such as fever, rashes and joint and muscle pain.

Repellants exist for mosquitoes as well, but as stated before, there is no guaranteed effectiveness.

"Water pools, like in a birdbath or clogged rain gutter, can foster a mosquito nest."

These bugs thrive in warm, wet areas with stagnant water, Cambridge Public Health reports. If you live near a pond or swamp, or where a nearby stream starts to slow during the heat of summer, those bodies of water could be a perfect breeding ground. But even smaller water pools, like in a birdbath or clogged rain gutter, can foster a mosquito nest as well. Be sure you scan your property after a rain storm to dump any collected water and be wary of puddles. 

Before spending time outside, you should spray yourself and your loved ones with insect repellent. It's also a good idea to wear long sleeves and pants if you're going near water, out into the woods or even to work in your garden. Wear light-weight clothing to keep it from being too hot. Use mosquito netting if possible to help add a layer of protection. Keeping them away from skin is the best way to prevent catching a dangerous disease. 

Mosquitoes are most active at dawn and dusk, so whenever possible, avoid spending too much time outside at those hours. 

There are still plenty of reasons to spend time outside with your loved ones. Just be sure to use caution during tick and mosquito season so you can prevent any bites, or treat any illnesses quickly to keep everyone in your family safe.


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