Watch for ticks, mosquitoes this summer

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services encourages families to protect themselves using insect repellent, wearing long sleeves when weather permits and checking for ticks after being outside.

JEFFERSON CITY – Summer heat has arrived, states a press release from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. Although COVID-19 awareness and prevention continues to be a top priority, the DHSS reminds 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 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, states the release. Illnesses that may result from tick and mosquito bites can range from mild to severe and can be fatal in some cases.

"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.

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, the release continues. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, up to 80% of people infected with West Nile virus will not develop any symptoms.

Last year 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 oneself and family members 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,” Williams said.

DHSS recommends the following precautions to prevent tick and mosquito bites:

• Use insect repellent products with ingredients registered by the Environmental Protection Agency 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 package instructions.

• Wear long sleeves and pants when weather permits, to reduce exposed skin. Additionally, wearing light colored clothing makes it easier to see ticks on you while outdoors.

• Stay away from brushy areas, tall grasses and leaf litter. 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. 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.

More information can be found on the following websites: health.mo.gov/living/healthcondiseases/communicable/2minutedrill/, cdc.gov/ticks/ and cdc.gov/westnile/prevention/index.html.

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