For mosquitoes and ticks, summer means one thing: lots of bare human skin to bite. And with more bites come more opportunities for them to spread the illnesses they carry—some of which can be deadly.
Many mosquito- and tick-borne illnesses are difficult to treat or even detect, so preventing bites from occurring in the first place is vital. While you might think you’re more likely to encounter mosquitoes and ticks while you’re out in nature, they’re also very common in urban areas.
Below, Summit Health’s Dr. Victor Nwanguma offers the following tips on how to keep yourself safe from this summer.
Illnesses to watch out for
Below are some of the more common tick- or mosquito-borne illnesses found in the United States.
Lyme Disease: This is transmitted through the bite of an infected black-legged tick, leading to symptoms such as fatigue, fever, and skin rashes. Some people don’t develop symptoms at all, but if it’s not treated with antibiotics in the early stages, it can progress to later stages where it can involve the heart, nervous system, and joints.
West Nile Virus: This virus is spread to humans when they are bitten by a mosquito that has fed on infected birds. The virus can cause mild illness to inflammation of the brain and spinal cord in more extreme cases, with people over 50 at higher risk for severe symptoms.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever: Three types of ticks spread this: the Rocky Mountain wood tick, American dog tick, and brown dog tick. Common symptoms include fever, headache, nausea with or without vomiting, stomach pain, and skin rash. It can become life-threatening if not treated early on with antibiotics.
How to protect yourself from mosquito bites
If you’re around mosquito-infested areas, consider the following tips to stay safe:
- Cover up. Wear closed-toe shoes, socks, and long pants and sleeves, especially at dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active.
- Use repellent. Apply mosquito repellents with ingredients such as DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon, and IR3535 to your bare skin and clothing.
- Use screens. Place mosquito screens over all your doors and windows at home.
- Drain standing water around the house. This includes watering cans, birdbaths, plastic swimming pools, toys, pet bowls, and tarps and gutters that have accumulated rainwater.
How to protect yourself from tick bites
Tick bites often happen without us realizing it, so it’s important to stay vigilant. Here’s how:
- Stay on the trails. Avoid heavily wooded areas where you might be brushing against grass and leaves, as well as areas at high risk for Lyme disease.
- Dress appropriately. Cover up as much as possible and wear light-colored clothing, which makes it easier to spot ticks. When you arrive home, remove your clothing and put it in the dryer on high heat to kill any ticks you may have missed.
- Do a full-body check. Look for ticks behind your knees and ears, in your elbow crease, along the hairline, and in your underarms and groin area. Take a shower to wash away any you might have missed.
- Cut your grass short. Remove any leaves on the ground, clear brush and tall grasses around the home, and keep toys and playsets away from wooded areas.
- Protect your pets. Ask your veterinarian for safe tick-prevention products.
What to do if you’ve been bitten by a tick
Remove the tick as soon as possible
- Use clean forceps or fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin as you can.
- Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don’t twist or crush the tick.
- After removing the tick, clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.
- Dispose of the tick by flushing it down the toilet. If you would like to bring the tick for identification, place it in a sealed bag or container.
In general, it is usually not recommended to take antibiotics after tick bites to prevent tick-borne diseases. However, in certain circumstances, a single dose of doxycycline after a tick bite may lower your risk of Lyme disease. Consider talking to your healthcare provider if you live in an area where Lyme disease is common.
Finally, it is important to note that if you’ve been bitten by a tick or mosquito and are experiencing any of the symptoms described above, contact your doctor immediately. In many cases your provider can reassure you and help you avoid unnecessary concern, and when appropriate they can prescribe timely antibiotics.