The long Memorial Day weekend often includes outdoor activities. The Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) encourages Iowans to enjoy the many opportunities to be active outdoors, while remembering to protect against mosquitoes and ticks. Both bugs can transmit serious illnesses. Ticks can carry the organisms that cause Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and Ehrlichiosis.
“The best way to prevent tick bites is to avoid wooded and tall grassy areas, where ticks are usually found,” said IDPH Public Health Veterinarian & Deputy State Epidemiologist, Dr. Ann Garvey. If you do spend time in these areas:
Wear long-sleeved shirts and long, light-colored pants tucked into socks or boots.
Stay on trails when walking or hiking and avoid high grass.
Use insect repellants that contain DEET. Read and follow the label directions for application (DEET is not recommended for use on children under 2 months of age.)
Check yourself, your children and your pets for ticks as soon as you get back home. Ticks tend to prefer the back of the knee, armpit, scalp, groin, and back of the neck.
The most common tick-borne disease is Lyme disease; nearly 250 cases of Lyme disease were reported to IDPH in 2013. Not everyone who gets Lyme disease will have the same symptoms, but the best and earliest sign of infection is a rash that may appear within a few days to a month, usually at the site of the tick bite. The rash will first look like a small, red bump, then expand until it begins to look like a bull’s eye, with a red center and a red ring surrounding a clear area. It is important to contact your healthcare provider immediately if you develop this type of rash.
West Nile virus is transmitted through the bites of mosquitoes. While most people do not have any symptoms, approximately 20 percent of people infected with West Nile virus will have mild to moderate symptoms such as fever, headache, body aches and vomiting. Less than one percent of people infected become seriously ill and rarely, someone dies. There were 44 cases of West Nile virus were reported in Iowa in 2013; no deaths were reported. The best way to prevent West Nile virus is to reduce the risk of exposure to mosquitoes and to eliminate their breeding areas:
Use insect repellent with DEET, picaridin, IR3535, or oil of lemon eucalyptus. Always read the repellent label and consult with a healthcare provider if you have questions when using these types of products for children. For example, oil of lemon eucalyptus should not be used on children under 3 years old.
Avoid outdoor activities at dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active.
While outdoors, wear long-sleeved shirts, pants, shoes, and socks whenever possible.
Eliminate standing water around the home because that's where mosquitoes lay eggs. Empty water from buckets, cans, pool covers and pet water dishes. Change water in bird baths every three to four days.
The Iowa State University Medical Entomology laboratory conducts tick surveillance across the state and encourages Iowans to send in tick samples for identification. For more information and surveillance data, visit www.ent.iastate.edu/medent/. For more information about West Nile virus, visit www.idph.state.ia.us/CADE/DiseaseIndex.aspx?disease=West Nile Virus.