Summer bites

MSU extension educator encourages using preventative measures to avoid illness from mosquitoes, ticks

OSCEOLA COUNTY — Taking proper precautions to avoid the pesky, creepy-crawly critters warm weather brings can help area residents prevent serious health problems for both humans and animals.

With summer’s arrival, mosquitos and ticks are actively taking bites of residents throughout Mecosta and Osceola counties. May and June are usually the busiest months for both pests, explained Jerry Lindquist, Michigan State University agricultural educator.

“Mosquitoes are pretty bad around this time, but usually diminish when the summer gets hotter,” Lindquist said. “Tick activity also seems to diminish as summer goes on, with most of our reports of tick bites being received in May and June.”

When it comes to mosquitoes, the biggest concerns for diseases are the West Nile and Zika viruses, Lindquist said. While it’s not possible to completely eliminate the risk of getting bitten by a mosquito, there are steps people can take in an effort to avoid the bug’s bite.

People should steer clear of wetland areas, lakes and streams in the evening hours, especially young children who aren’t able to defend themselves, Lindquist said.

“Just try to be wise and avoid these area when possible,” he said. “The big thing is to use repellents and wear long sleeves and pants when outdoors.”

To protect both humans and animals, standing water around homes should be removed.

“Rain gutters, old tires, garbage or other residue, even a bird bath, can increase the population of mosquitos in an area,” Lindquist said. “Another tip is to keep the grass mowed short so more sunlight gets to to soil surface. That will reduce the population as well.”

MSU Extension is receiving reports of high populations of ticks in much of the area, Lindquist said.

Ticks live in areas with tall grass, woodlands and any place where there is shade and cover, such as vegetative material more than 2-feet tall, Lindquist said.

“If you are going into a possible tick habitat, wear pants to the ankles and lighter colored clothing because it allows you to spot ticks on clothing better,” Lindquist said. “Always do a tick check if you’ve been on a hike or in woodland area.”

Lindquist said there have been reports of ticks being brought into homes on pets. He encourages using deterrents on pets, such as collar or other preventive treatment. He also advises regular inspections of pets that go in and out of the home.

“It’s good for not only the pet, but also for the home and people inside,” he said. “You don’t want to allow a tick population to grow in your house.”

If a tick is found, whether on a human or animal, make sure to remove the head first, Lindquist said.

“Normally, you can use tweezers to grab the tick,” he said. “It takes a little patience. Always work on getting the head first by gently work it out from under the skin. You don’t want to grab the body and rip it out because it can inject more liquid toxins under the skin.”

If bitten by a tick, be aware and pay attention for possible symptoms of Lyme disease or other tickbourne illnesses. Symptoms are similar to the flu. Lindquist suggests seeing a physician if you have symptoms along with a recent tick bite.

“There are medical treatments for diseases like Lyme disease if caught early, but many times people don’t check, get mild symptoms and then it two years later it emerges with more debilitating symptoms,” Lindquist said. “Checking and being aware are the keys to preventing really serious problems from a tick bite.”

“We have had deaths from Lyme disease in Michigan before, so it’s in our environment, it’s not just in some other state,” he added. “I’m not saying be afraid to go outside, but take proper precautions and do inspections on yourself if you’ve been in an area where ticks could live.”

Below are symptoms for West Nile Virus, Zika Virus and tick-related  disease, courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

West Nile Virus

There are no symptoms in 70 to 80 percent of people who become infected with West Nile virus. About 1 in 5 people who are infected will develop a fever with other symptoms such as headache, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea or rash. Most people with this type of West Nile virus disease recover completely, but fatigue and weakness can last for weeks or months. Less than 1% of people who are infected will develop a serious neurologic illness such as encephalitis or meningitis. The symptoms of neurologic illness can include headache, high fever, neck stiffness, disorientation, coma, tremors, seizures or paralysis.

Serious illness can occur in people of any age. However, people over 60 years of age are at the greatest risk for severe disease. People with certain medical conditions, such as cancer, diabetes, hypertension, kidney disease, and people who have received organ transplants, are also at greater risk for serious illness.

Zika Virus

Most people infected with Zika virus won’t even know they have the disease because they won’t have symptoms. The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain or conjunctivitis (red eyes). Other common symptoms include muscle pain and headache. The incubation period (the time from exposure to symptoms) for Zika virus disease is not known, but is likely to be a few days to a week. See your doctor or other healthcare provider if you are pregnant and develop a fever, rash, joint pain or red eyes within 2 weeks after traveling to a place where Zika has been reported. Be sure to tell your doctor or other healthcare provider where you traveled. The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting for several days to a week. People usually don’t get sick enough to go to the hospital, and they very rarely die of Zika. For this reason, many people might not realize they have been infected.

Tick-related illnesses/Lyme disease

The most common symptoms of tick-related illnesses are fever/chills, aches and pains such as headache, fatigue, and muscle aches. With Lyme disease you may also experience joint pain. The severity and time of onset of these symptoms can depend on the disease and the patient's personal tolerance level. Rashes are also common with Lyme disease and other tick-related illnesses. In Lyme disease, the rash may appear within three to 30 days, typically before the onset of fever. The Lyme disease rash is the first sign of infection and is usually a circular rash called erythema migrans or EM. This rash occurs in approximately 70 to 80 perfect of infected persons and begins at the site of a tick bite. It may be warm, but is not usually painful. Some patients develop additional EM lesions in other areas of the body several days later.