Protect yourself from tick and mosquito bites this summer
JEFFERSON CITY, MO – The summer heat has arrived! Although COVID-19 awareness and prevention continues to be a top priority, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) wants to remind Missourians to also take simple steps to prevent illnesses that are spread by ticks and mosquitoes when they spend time outdoors.
“Missouri is a beautiful state, home to gorgeous parks, fantastic hiking trails, national forest lands, pretty lakes, and unfortunately ticks and mosquitoes,” said Dr. Randall Williams, DHSS Director.
DHSS receives reports of illness caused by tick and mosquito bites throughout the year, including winter months, though reports are more frequent during the warm weather months. Illnesses that may result from tick and mosquito bites can range from mild to severe and, in some cases, can even be fatal.
"Symptoms of tick- and mosquito-borne diseases typically begin within two weeks of a bite and include flu-like symptoms such as a sudden fever, body aches, and headache," said Williams.
The two main tick-borne diseases reported in Missouri residents are ehrlichiosis and Rocky Mountain spotted fever, followed by tularemia and Lyme disease. A small number of Heartland virus and Bourbon virus cases have also been reported in recent years. In 2019, Missouri reported a combined total of 976 cases of tick-borne disease.
West Nile virus is the most common illness spread by mosquitoes in Missouri and other parts of the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), up to 80% of people infected with West Nile virus will not develop any symptoms. In 2019, Missouri reported 5 cases of West Nile virus. This was a low number of reported cases for Missouri, below the five year average of approximately 20 cases per year. Other states in the Midwest region experienced declines in cases reported during 2019 as well. Last week, St. Louis County announced their first West Nile virus case for 2020. This is the first reported case statewide this season.
Despite the presence of ticks and mosquitoes, everyone can safely enjoy the outdoors with a few simple safety precautions. The best way to protect yourself and your family from the diseases carried by ticks and mosquitoes is to avoid their bites.
“We encourage everyone to protect themselves by using insect repellent, wearing long sleeves and long pants when the weather allows, and performing tick checks after being outdoors,” said Williams.
DHSS recommends the following precautions to prevent tick and mosquito bites:
Use insect repellent products with ingredients registered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) such as DEET, picaridin, IR3535, and oil of lemon eucalyptus. For children under 3 years of age, do not use products containing oil of lemon eucalyptus. Apply and re-apply insect repellent to exposed skin according to the package instructions.
Wear long sleeves and pants to reduce exposed skin when weather permits. Wearing light colored clothing makes it easier to see ticks that are crawling on you while outdoors.
Stay away from brushy areas, tall grasses, and leaf litter to avoid ticks. Try to stay in the center of the trails when hiking. After returning indoors, check your body carefully for ticks.
Eliminate mosquito habitat around your home. Drain standing water found in toys, buckets, flowerpots, gutters, or other items that may collect sprinkler or rainwater. Empty, scrub, and refresh water in pet dishes and birdbaths at least once or twice per week.
Check window and door screens around the home. Repair holes or replace screens as needed to help keep mosquitoes outside of your home.