SHAWANO, Wis. – Summer arriving in Northeast and Central Wisconsin means lots of time spent outdoors on recreation or yard work – and along with it, the potential danger that pests like mosquitoes and ticks can pose.
The good news: there are many ways to help protect yourself and loved ones from the diseases these insects and arachnids can bring.
“Mosquitoes, which are most active in the dawn or dusk hours, tend to be found near sources of standing water, weedy or wooded areas, said Jasmine Wiley, MD, a family medicine physician with ThedaCare Physicians-Shawano. “Eliminating standing water in your yard – even in containers – can help decrease your mosquito population, and therefore your risk of mosquito-borne illness.”
Not every bite will result in illness, but mosquitoes, which are insects, can carry diseases such as encephalitis and West Nile virus. The West Nile virus is not commonly found in humans in the region, but has appeared infrequently; it can cause severe illness or death in rare cases.
West Nile can cause flu-like symptoms, rash, swollen lymph nodes, joint pain, or more severe symptoms such as confusion and muscle weakness. Encephalitis is an inflammation of the brain, and patients who have contracted an encephalitis virus may experience fever, headache, lethargy, nausea and vomiting, or even partial paralysis.
“If you or a loved one are experiencing any of these symptoms following a mosquito bite, you should seek medical attention immediately,” Dr. Wiley said. “It’s best to rule out anything serious when it comes to potential issues.”
The best protection against mosquito- and tick-borne illness is to avoid being bitten in the first place, she said. Strong insect repellents such as DEET can be used on clothing and exposed skin if washed off immediately upon returning indoors. Do not apply DEET on broken skin or around sensitive areas such as the eyes and mouth. Reapply repellent per product directions. Children can be protected with repellents that contain 20 percent to 30 percent DEET.
What to Know About Ticks
Ticks, which are in the arachnid family, can be a particularly treacherous problem in Wisconsin. Lyme Disease is a growing problem, with more than 3,000 cases reported in 2018, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.
Symptoms such as a stiff neck, fever or chills, muscle aches, or swollen lymph nodes following a tick bite – and sometimes an accompanying “bulls-eye” pattern rash – can indicate the onset of Lyme Disease. Lyme Disease can cause problems years after contracting the disease, including arthritis, neurological symptoms, or heart problems, so patients should be seen as early as possible for treatment. Lyme Disease is carried by the deer tick, also known as the black-legged tick.
“Ticks of all types are found in wooded areas, high grass, and leaf litter, and can also be found in backyards – even in the city,” Dr. Wiley said. “When people are planning to be outdoors in high-risk areas, wearing light-color clothing can help with easily spotting ticks. Wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants tucked into boots or socks can help prevent ticks from latching on to skin.”
After coming in from outdoor activities, it is recommended that you do a full body tick search on yourself, children and pets:
- Check your clothing. Any tick that is found should be disposed of by putting it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, wrapping it tightly in tape or flushing it down the toilet.
- Tumble dry clothes on high heat for 10 minutes to kill ticks. If the clothes are damp, additional time may be needed. If the clothes require washing, hot water is recommended to kill ticks.
- Examine gear and pets. Ticks can ride on clothing, pets and gear and attach to a person later.
- Shower soon after being outdoors. Showering may help wash off unattached ticks, and it is a good opportunity to do a tick check.
- Conduct a full body check. Use a handheld or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body:
- Under the arms
- In and around the ears
- Back of the knees
- In the hair and around the hairline
- Between the legs
- Around the waist
“Immediately remove any ticks you find,” Dr. Wiley said. “For ticks that have dug into your skin, use a fine-tipped tweezers to grasp tick firmly, as close to your skin as possible, and pull away from skin with a steady motion.”
Clean the area with soap and water right away, she said.
If you have any trouble removing the tick – or you’re not sure that it was removed completely – or if you develop any signs or symptoms of illness, call your provider for evaluation. When in doubt about the type of tick that you found, save it on a piece of tape and bring it with you for evaluation.
For more than 110 years, ThedaCare® has been committed to improving the health of the communities it serves in northeast and central Wisconsin. The organization delivers care to more than 600,000 residents in 18 counties and employs approximately 7,000 health care professionals. ThedaCare has 180 points of care, including seven hospitals. As an organization committed to being a leader in Population Health, team members are dedicated to empowering people to live their best lives through easy access to individualized care, supporting each person’s own health and wellbeing. ThedaCare also partners with communities to understand unique needs, finding solutions together, and encouraging health awareness and action. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care Network Member, giving specialists the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts on a patient’s care. ThedaCare is a not-for-profit health system with a level II trauma center, comprehensive cancer treatment, stroke and cardiac programs, as well as primary care.