Ticks and mosquitoes
Summer in Kansas brings an increased risk of illnesses due to mosquitoes and ticks. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of illnesses caused by mosquitoes, ticks and fleas have tripled since 2004.
Illnesses from ticks are getting reported to the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department earlier in the year. To date, LDCHD has already received several reports of tick-borne illnesses and we anticipate that numbers will continue to rise through the summer and into early fall.
In Kansas, ticks are prone to carry four diseases: Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Ehrlichiosis and Tularemia.
Ticks lurk in tall grasses and bushy areas and then climb aboard humans as they walk by. Some ticks will attach quickly and others will wander looking for an area where the skin is thinner. They must be attached for more than 24 hours before they can transmit infection; therefore, finding and removing all ticks in a timely manner is critical to preventing disease.
Symptoms typically include: fever, headache, rash and joint/muscle pain. If you have any of these symptoms with recent exposure to ticks, call your health care provider.
To help protect against ticks:
- Avoid wooded and bushy areas with tall grass and leaf litter.
- Keep grass cut and underbrush thinned in yards.
- Wear light-colored clothing so that ticks are easier to see and remove.
- Tuck pant legs into socks and boots. Wear long-sleeved shirts buttoned at the wrist. Tuck shirts into pants to keep ticks on the outside of clothing.
- When outdoors, use insect repellent containing DEET and follow all directions and precautions on the label.
- Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors, preferably within two hours, to wash off and more easily find ticks.
- Conduct tick checks on yourself, children and pets every four to six hours for several days after being in a tick-infested area. Ticks tend to attach in the following areas: under the arms, around the waist, behind the knees, between the legs, inside the belly button and in hair.
- Remove ticks as quickly as possible. The best method is to use tweezers and pull upward with steady, even pressure. After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub or soap and water.
If you find a tick on your body, jot down the date it was discovered. If symptoms such as a rash, fever, headache, joint or muscle pains or swollen lymph nodes appear, contact your doctor as soon as possible. Tick-borne diseases can cause mild symptoms treatable at home with antibiotics to severe infections requiring hospitalization.
Mosquitoes can be more than just a nuisance during the summertime. They can also cause serious illnesses, such as West Nile virus, Chikangunya, Dengue Fever and Zika. Follow the three D’s to protect you and your home from mosquitoes during the summer:
- Deet: Use an insect repellant with Deet or other EPA-approved repellent.
- Drain: Remove excess or standing water from birdbaths, planters, old tires or drains.
- Dress: Protect exposed skin by wearing lightweight, long-sleeved shirts and pants. Wear socks to protect your feet and ankles.
West Nile Surveillance in Kansas
West Nile virus is the most common mosquito-borne disease in the United States.Clinical symptoms can include: fever, headaches, body aches, diarrhea and rash. Complications from West Nile virus can be severe, including: disorientation, coma, vision loss or paralysis. It is possible to develop encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) from West Nile virus.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment facilitates West Nile surveillance for the state. KDHE uses a variety of criteria to determine the relative level of risk from West Nile virus. Criteria include: presence of Culex mosquitoes, human cases of West Nile, increase in the number of Culex mosquitoes and historical indicators.
For more information on West Nile Virus surveillance in Kansas, click here: http://www.kdheks.gov/epi/arboviral_disease.htm.
The Zika virus can cause fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes and is spread primarily through mosquitos. It is possible for Zika to be sexually transmitted or through pregnancy. If transmitted during pregnancy, the fetus can experience serious birth defects.
It is important to remember that many times those infected with Zika do not show any signs or symptoms. It can be possible to pass the disease along, even if you are feeling healthy. If you have traveled to an area with Zika, it is important to take the appropriate measures to prevent spreading it to a sexual partner.
All cases of Zika in the state of Kansas have been travel-associated, meaning an individual traveled to a location where Zika is prevalent, was bitten by a mosquito transmitting the virus and returned home with the disease. To learn which locations have Zika, click here: https://www.cdc.gov/zika/geo/index.html.
Douglas County has never had a case of Zika virus. However, according to research done by the University of Kansas, the two primary mosquitoes (Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus) that can transmit Zika virus can be found in Douglas County.
Recommendations when traveling to an area with Zika:
- Wear insect repellant while traveling to avoid getting bit.
- Keep doors and windows shut while sleeping. If this is not possible, sleep under a mosquito net.
- Wear lightweight, long-sleeved shirts and pants.
- Pregnant women should consider not traveling to a location with Zika.
Recommendations for returning from an area with Zika:
- Continue to wear insect repellant for three weeks to avoid infecting local mosquitoes.
- For women exposed: Use condoms or abstain from sex and avoid pregnancy for eight weeks after possible exposure.
- For men exposed: Use condoms or abstain from sex and avoid pregnancy for six months after possible exposure.