Bugs of Summer

Mosquitoes and ticks are two of summer’s less pleasant realities. Both can carry germs that cause human illness. Mosquitoes can transmit the virus that causes West Nile Disease and deer ticks can carry the bacteria that cause Lyme Disease.

Lyme Disease

The early symptoms of Lyme disease can be quite mild and sometimes go undiagnosed. Future health problems can develop if it is not treated in its early stages.

Symptoms of Lyme disease begin three to thirty days after the bite of an infected tick. Often a red rash around the bite site, resembling a “bulls eye”, is the first indication of infection.

Sixty to eighty percent of infected individuals experience this rash called Erythema Migrans (EM). Conversely, two to four of every ten individuals with Lyme disease, do not experience the typical rash, or may have no rash at all. Rashes, if they are present, may go unnoticed as ticks may attach themselves undetected to areas such as the armpit, groin, scalp or back.

Other early symptoms include fatigue, mild joint pain, headache, low-grade fever, chills, stiff neck or swollen glands. More severe symptoms of Lyme disease may not appear for weeks or months after the tick bite. These can include severe fatigue, chronic stiff neck, tingling or numbness in the extremities, arthritis (joint pain and swelling), facial paralysis, chronic headache, and heart and central nervous system problems.

When Lyme disease is diagnosed in its early stages, it can be easily treated with antibiotics. As the disease progresses, treatment becomes less effective. Prevention and early detection are very important.

Preventing Lyme Disease
Summer activities such as camping, hiking and gardening bring ticks and humans in close proximity. The best protection is to avoid areas where ticks live, such as tall grasses, shrubs, and at the edges of lawns, ponds, and wooded areas. Other prevention strategies include wearing light colored clothing with long sleeves, tucking pant legs into socks and wearing covered footwear to provide a physical barrier against the ticks.

Since avoiding tick habitat and dressing in long sleeves and pants during the summer months is not completely realistic, many opt to use insect repellents containing DEET, permethrin, or botanical oils. DEET and permethrin-containing products are not risk free. Carefully follow the manufacturer’s directions and use only in small amounts. These are not recommended for use in small children. Botanical oils, though less dangerous may also be less effective.

So, what are some less hazardous and more realistic prevention strategies? Wearing light colored clothing while enjoying the out of doors is simple and makes for easier tick detection. Staying on clearly marked trails while hiking, rather than traipsing through areas of high grass, decreases the risk of tick exposure further. Checking yourself and family members for ticks after time spent out of doors may be the most effective prevention strategy. The prompt removal of ticks significantly decreases the risk of disease. The longer a tick feeds on its host, the higher the likelihood of infection. Check your animals, as they can be a source of ticks for your family and can also contract Lyme disease.

Early Detection

Not all ticks are capable of causing illness. The tick that transmits Lyme disease in New York State (Ixodes scapularis) is commonly referred to as the blacklegged deer tick and is very tiny, especially prior to feeding.

If you do find a tick, remove it with tweezers grasping it as close to the skin as possible, being careful to retrieve the head and mouthparts. Ticks can be submitted to New York State for identification. Contact your local health department or NY State Department of Health for more information about this service.

After removing a tick, stay alert for the development of a rash or other symptoms. If you are concerned about infection, seek medical advice from your physician or local emergency room. Lyme disease can be difficult to diagnose as early symptoms may mimic other illnesses and lab tests are not always 100% accurate. Careful physical examination, lab work and a detailed exposure history are required for definitive diagnosis. Your doctor might also test you for other types of tick borne diseases. With early diagnosis and treatment, Lyme disease is curable, but keep in mind that future tick bites can cause re-infection.

For more information, see the following websites:

Ticks are not the only carriers of summer’s diseases. Mosquitoes can do some deadly work, too. One of the diseases transmitted by mosquitoes is West Nile Virus (WNV). WNV is a relatively new addition to the “bugs of summer” in the United States – it wasn’t seen here until the mid-1990’s, but since then it has gained a strong foothold.

West Nile Virus

People who contract WNV may have such minimal symptoms they might not even know they are infected. Others develop a mild flu-like illness that lasts for a few days or weeks. Severe symptoms can include a high fever, stiff neck, muscle weakness and neurological symptoms including coma, vision loss, numbness and paralysis. Illness can last for several weeks, and permanent central nervous system damage can result. Fortunately, just one person out of every 150 people infected will develop such serious illness.

Though WNV has been found in all US states with the exception of Alaska and Hawaii, human disease is much more prevalent in the western portion of the country.

Though WNV has been found in all US states with the exception of Alaska and Hawaii, human disease is much more prevalent in the western portion of the country.

Humans are not the only species affected by West Nile Virus. Certain birds and mammals are also at risk for infection. Birds, crows in particular, play a significant role as they readily harbor the virus. The common link between birds and humans is the mosquito. WNV has also been spread (rarely) through donated blood or organs of unknowingly infected individuals. It is not spread during casual contact.

Because there is no specific treatment for WNV, public health efforts are focused on prevention and are similar to those already discussed for Lyme disease.

Preventing WNV

Avoid being outside during the times when mosquitoes are most likely to feed (dusk to dawn). Avoid camping, hiking or working near standing water: environments where mosquitoes breed. Dress strategically; wear long sleeves and pants to reduce mosquito exposure. Keep your yard free of standing water, your pool well maintained, and your grass cut. Finally, as discussed with ticks, consider using an effective insect repellent.

This is especially important when out of doors in the evening or in moist environments. On a larger scale, some states and counties spray pesticides in efforts to decrease the mosquito population and incidence of mosquito-borne diseases.

A Word About Birds

A sick or dead bird on your property is probably not a reason to be alarmed. If you are concerned, notify your local health department. Ontario County Public Health makes a record of these calls and reports them to New York State. A sudden increase in the number of sick or dead birds in a common area may indicate that WNV is on the rise or that another public health concern exists. Dead birds should not be handled with bare hands and should be double bagged prior to disposal.

For more information, see the following websites: