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June 2, 2006

Spending Time Outdoors? Don’t Forget to Protect Yourself from Ticks and Mosquitoes

Summer is always a lovely time to spend outdoors in Oswego County. As people enjoy the outdoors, Kathleen Smith, Director of Public Health for the Oswego County Health Department, said everyone should protect themselves from diseases carried by ticks and mosquitoes.

Lyme disease is caused by bacteria transmitted through the bite of an infected deer tick. Ticks are active from mid-May to November. Infected deer ticks are found throughout New York State.

“Lyme disease can have serious complications if not identified and treated early,” said Smith. “The most noticeable early sign of Lyme disease is a rash resembling a bull’s eye, or solid patch. The rash usually, but not always, develops between three and 30 days after the tick bite. In some cases, no rash appears, while in other cases, there are multiple rashes.”

Other symptoms of early Lyme disease include fever, fatigue, headache, stiff neck, muscle aches and joint pain. If you notice these signs or symptoms, consult a health care provider immediately.

West Nile virus is caused by the bite of an infected mosquito. The virus can cause serious illness, and in some cases, death.

“The chances of a person becoming ill with West Nile virus are small,” Smith said. “Most people who are infected with the virus will not have any type of illness.”

It is estimated that 20 percent of those who become infected will develop West Nile fever. Mild symptoms include fever, headache and body aches, and occasionally a skin rash and swollen lymph glands. Symptoms of severe infection, West Nile encephalitis or meningitis, include high fever, muscle weakness, stupor and disorientation.

“There are simple precautions that you can take to reduce your chances of being bitten by mosquitoes or ticks,” said Smith. “Light-colored clothing, long sleeves, and pants that are loose fitting can help prevent mosquito bites and help keep ticks off your skin. Light-colored clothing makes it easier to see ticks on yourself or your children.”

Smith said those who use insect repellents should carefully read and follow all label directions. Do not allow children to apply repellent to themselves. There are many kinds of repellents on the market, including products that contain DEET, permethrin, picaridin and a variety of botanical oils.

“Check the label of the repellent to see what it is designed to repel and for how long it’s effective. Ticks may be more difficult to repel than mosquitoes,” Smith said. “If you decide to use a repellent, pick one that is right for your situation.”

Do not attempt to remove ticks by using petroleum jelly, kerosene, lit cigarettes or other home remedies. If you find a tick attached to your body, remove it by taking the following steps:

  • Using tweezers, grasp the tick near the mouth, as close to the skin as possible.
  • Be careful not to squeeze, crush or puncture the body of the tick.
  • Pull the tick in a steady, upward motion away from the skin.
  • After removing the tick, thoroughly disinfect the bite site with soap, rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide.

Contact your health care provider if you have any concerns about incomplete tick removal. Record the date and location of the tick bite. If a rash appears or you experience flu-like symptoms, contact your health care provider.

There are also steps that you can take around your home to reduce the number of ticks and mosquitoes. Remove the breeding areas for mosquitoes by emptying standing water in buckets, flower pots, children’s wading pools and other containers. Install or repair window and door screens to keep mosquitoes outside.

The best way to prevent ticks around the yard is to remove brush and leaf litter, which are preferred tick habitats. To protect children, keep play areas and playground equipment away from shrubs, bushes and other vegetation.

For more information on how to reduce the risk of Lyme disease and West Nile virus, call the Oswego County Health Department at 349-3564 or visit the New York State Department of Health Web site at www.nyhealth.gov.

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