Bug off!

Is it just me, or are the bugs way worse this summer than they have been in previous years?  Well, it’s not just me.  Warmer winters have led to an increased tick and mosquito population, so experts predict rising tick- and mosquito-borne infections of many types. And with all this rain we’ve had recently, you know the mosquito population is only going to get worse…

In Wisconsin (and many other places in the United States), the disease we most associate with ticks is Lyme disease. Symptoms of Lyme disease can range from common (including the target rash with central clearing, headaches, fatigue) to more rare (vaginal ulcers, inflammation of joints or the heart, or neurological conditions, including seizures).

Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, which is spread through the bite of an infected blacklegged tick (also known as deer ticks). In many places in Wisconsin, more than 1 in 5 ticks are infected with this bacteria. It is important that the tick is removed promptly and properly, if still attached. The CDC has good instructions for tick removal. If the tick is removed within 24 hours of attachment, the risk for Lyme disease is very low. Once Lyme disease is detected, a course of antibiotics can treat it.  There are many other tick-borne diseases as well – including a potentially fatal illness that has been making the news called Powassan (has been found in Wisconsin but is much rarer than Lyme disease). There’s also a super-interesting phenomenon that can happen after the bite of a Lone Star Tick where you develop an allergy to meat.

There are several mosquito-transmitted illnesses. Zika has been getting the most attention (and we dedicated 2 blogs to it last year). Although one of the specific types of mosquito (Aedes albopictus, or Asian tiger mosquito) that can transmit Zika virus has been identified in Wisconsin, we have not seen the actual disease (outside of people who have travelled to Zika endemic places or a University of Wisconsin lab). The most common mosquito-borne illnesses in Wisconsin are West Nile Virus, Jamestown Canyon, and La Crosse Encephalitis/California Encephalitis. Most of these diseases can cause a range of severity of symptoms, from no symptoms to flu-like illness to severe neurological symptoms.

Remember, preventing is easier than treating these diseases. The Environmental Protection Agency has a tool that can help you decide which repellant is right for you and your family (when in doubt, use tick and mosquito repellant that contains minimum 20% DEET). You can also buy clothing that has built-in repellant. Protect your pets with prevention treatments and frequently check pets for ticks – pets can get infections like Lyme disease, and the pets can also bring the pests into the house.

If you have concerns about tick- or mosquito-borne illnesses, make sure to talk with your doctor.