With warmer weather upon us, it is important to take precautions against mosquito and tick bites. The Michigan Departments of Health and Human Services, Natural Resources, and Agriculture and Rural Development are reminding all residents to protect themselves from mosquito and tick-borne diseases in Michigan and while traveling out of state.
“As we spend more time outdoors, it’s important to remember that a single bite from an infected mosquito can have serious health consequences,” said Dr. Eden Wells, chief medical executive for MDHHS. “The best way to protect yourself and your family against mosquito-borne illness is to prevent mosquito bites.”
Seasonal activity varies from year to year, but mosquitoes encountered in Michigan can carry illnesses such as West Nile virus (WNV) and Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE), and ticks can carry illnesses such as Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. International travelers may be at risk for exposure to other mosquito-transmitted diseases. People considering international travel, including Mexico, Central and South America, should consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) travelers health page for specific health information about the country they are visiting.
“Horses and other animals can act as sentinels for mosquito-borne viruses such as EEE, which is why implementing preventive measures and vaccination is important,” said Dr. James Averill, MDARD’s State Veterinarian. “Additionally, dogs and domestic animals are susceptible to tick-borne diseases like Lyme Disease. I encourage all animal owners to work with a licensed veterinarian to make sure your animals stay healthy.”
Mosquito and tick-borne diseases can cause mild symptoms, severe infections requiring hospitalization, and even death in some cases. Nationally in 2015, there were 2,060 WNV cases and 119 deaths reported to the CDC, including 18 cases and two deaths in Michigan. Those with the highest risk of illness caused by WNV are adults 50 years of age and older.
Michigan is considered “low risk” for mosquito transmission of Zika, dengue, and chikungunya virus, as the mosquitoes that spread the diseases have not been found in the state. Zika is a virus that is newly emerged in the western hemisphere, and while its symptoms are not considered severe, the virus can cause birth defects in fetuses of pregnant women exposed to the virus. To date in 2016, there have been four travel-related cases identified in Michigan. Protection against mosquito-borne disease is as easy as remembering to take these key steps:
• Avoid mosquito bites: Use insect repellent according to label directions when outdoors and mosquitoes are biting. Look for EPA-labeled products containing active ingredients, such as DEET, Picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus). Re-apply as needed. Use nets or fans around outdoor eating areas to keep mosquitoes away. Start with a low-concentration product and reapply if necessary. Apply repellent on your hands and then rub it on the child and never apply repellent to children’s hands or their skin under clothing.
• Mosquito-proof homes: Fix or install window and door screens and cover or eliminate empty containers with standing water where mosquitoes can lay eggs.
• Help your community: Report dead birds to Michigan’s Emerging Diseases website to help track WNV and support community-based mosquito control programs.
• Vaccinate horses against WNV and EEE virus and work with your veterinarian.
• Pregnant women should not travel to areas with active Zika transmission. If they must travel, they should take precautions to prevent mosquito bites.
Michigan is also home to a number of tick species that will bite people and are typically found in wooded or brushy areas with tall grass and leaf litter. The ticks mostly commonly encountered in Michigan can carry Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and other human illnesses. Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne disease reported in the state with 148 human cases reported in 2015.
Many tick-borne diseases have similar symptoms. See your healthcare provider if you develop signs of illness such as a fever, body aches and/or rash in the days after receiving a tick bite or recreating in tick habitat. Early recognition and treatment can decrease the chance of serious complications. You can prevent tick bites by:
• Avoiding tick-infested areas. This is especially important in May, June, and July. If you are in tick infested areas, walk in the center of trails to avoid contact with overgrown grass, brush, and leaf litter at trail edges. Dogs and domestic animals can also be impacted, so using a tick preventative is recommended.
• Using insect repellent. Apply repellent containing DEET (20-30%) or Picaridin on clothes and on exposed skin. You can also treat clothes (especially pants, socks, and shoes) with permethrin, which kills ticks on contact or buy clothes that are pre-treated. Permethrin can also be used on tents and some camping gear. Do not use permethrin directly on skin. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions when applying any repellents.
• Bathing or showering. Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors (preferably within two hours) to wash off and more easily find ticks that are crawling on you. Ticks can get a ride indoors on your clothes. After being outdoors, wash and dry clothing at a high temperature to kill any ticks that may remain on clothing.
• Performing daily tick checks. Always check for ticks after being outdoors, including your animals, even in your own yard. Because ticks must usually be attached for at least a day before they can transmit the bacteria that cause Lyme disease, early removal can reduce the risk of infection. Inspect all body surfaces carefully, and remove attached ticks with tweezers. Grasp the tick firmly and as closely to the skin as possible. With a steady motion, pull the tick’s body away from the skin. Do not be alarmed if the tick’s mouthparts remain in the skin. Cleanse the area with an antiseptic.