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Don't let bugs take a bite out of outdoor fun

Simple personal actions can help residents escape some potentially serious insect-spread diseases linked with warmer weather and outdoor activities, according to the Wyoming Department of Health (WDH).

Courtney Tillman, epidemiologist with WDH, said avoiding mosquitos and ticks is the basic strategy and remains important.

“Wyoming’s reported case numbers from the diseases these insects can cause are typically low, but we consistently see activity each year. And, unfortunately, the results can sometimes be severe,” Tillman said.

West Nile virus (WNV) is spread by mosquitoes when they feed on infected birds and then bite people, animals or other birds.

While most people infected with WNV don’t have symptoms, among those who become ill, symptoms include fever, headache, body aches, skin rash and swollen lymph nodes. A very small number of individuals develop West Nile neuroinvasive disease with symptoms such as severe headache, fever, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions and paralysis.

The “5 Ds” of WNV prevention include:

1) DAWN and 2) DUSK - Mosquitos prefer to feed at dawn or dusk, so avoid spending time outside during these times.

3) DRESS - Wear shoes, socks, long pants and a long-sleeved shirt outdoors. Clothing should be light-colored and made of tightly woven materials.

4) DRAIN - Mosquitos breed in shallow, stagnant water. Reduce the amount of standing water by draining and/or removing.

5) DEET - Use an insect repellent containing DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide). When using DEET, be sure to read and follow label instructions. Picaridin (KBR 3023) or oil of lemon eucalyptus can also be effective.

“These recommendations are familiar but remain important to help prevent mosquito bites,” Tillman said.

Serious diseases sometimes spread by infected ticks in Wyoming include tularemia, Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF) and Colorado tick fever (CTF).

Tularemia symptoms include fever, swollen and painful lymph glands, inflamed eyes, sore throat, mouth sores, skin ulcers and diarrhea. If the bacteria are inhaled, symptoms can include sudden onset of fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, joint pain, dry cough and progressive weakness and pneumonia.

Initial RMSF symptoms may include fever, nausea, vomiting, muscle pain, lack of appetite and severe headache. Later signs and symptoms may include rash, abdominal pain, joint pain and diarrhea.

CTF usually causes fever, headache, muscle and joint pain and, occasionally, a rash.

People can be exposed to ticks when walking through, playing or sitting in brushy and grassy areas, or handling certain animals. Steps to help avoid tick-related diseases include:

• Apply insect repellents registered with the Environmental Protection Agency, such as those containing 20 percent or more DEET and/or picaradin.

• Treat outdoor clothing and gear with products containing 0.5 percent permethrin. 

• Avoid brushy areas with high grass. When hiking, walk in the center of trails.

• Upon return from potentially tick-infested areas, shower and search yourself and children for ticks and remove if found.

• Tumble dry clothing on high heat for ten minutes after being in tick areas to kill ticks on dry clothing. If clothes require washing, use hot water. 

• Check pets for ticks; use tick control products recommended by veterinarians.

• Carefully handle live or dead potentially infected animals such as rabbits and rodents. 

• Always follow product instructions when using permethrin and insect repellents. 

Tillman noted WDH tularemia, RMSF and CTF web pages each include a “tick bite assessment” tool, which demonstrates the proper way to remove an attached tick and describes when to seek healthcare after a tick bite.

“National news reports frequently discuss lyme disease, which can be a serious threat in some locations. The ticks that spread lyme disease are not known to live in Wyoming,” Tillman said.

Information from WDH about mosquito-related and tick-borne illnesses, along with other infectious diseases, can be found at https://health.wyo.gov/publichealth/infectious-disease-epidemiology-unit/disease/.

 
 
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