Avoid mosquitoes and ticks that spread West Nile, other illnesses, Oklahoma officials say

Vicky O. Misa
The Shawnee News-Star

The Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) is urging residents to remember it's time to get proactive in avoiding ailments spread by the insects.

The summer season and stagnant water are a perfect hotbed for mosquitoes. Unfortunately, bites from the pesky bloodsuckers can have some negative consequences, like potentially contracting the most common disease spread by mosquitoes in Oklahoma — West Nile Virus.

“As much rain as we are having, mosquitoes are going to be abundant this season,” Public Health Veterinarian LeMac’ Morris said. “Weather has a major influence on mosquito populations. May is the traditional start of mosquito season, but mosquitoes can appear as early as March and may persist even after the first fall frost.”

According to the CDC, there are no vaccines to prevent or medications to treat West Nile Virus.

“Fortunately, most people infected with WNV do not feel sick,” the OSDH reports. “About 1 in 5 people who are infected develop a fever and other symptoms.” However, about 1 out of 150 infected people develop a serious, sometimes fatal, illness.

Culex quinauefasciatus is the mosquito that carries West Nile Virus.

Mosquitoes lay their eggs anywhere with stagnant water. Recommendations are that residents should keep standing water to a minimum around their property.

“Empty and scrub, turn over, cover or discard items that hold water, such as tires, buckets, planters, toys, pools, bird baths, flower pots or trash containers,” the CDC states.

For areas of standing water that can't be removed — like creek beds — larvicide can be spread to cut down on mosquitoes.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that larvicides target larvae in the breeding habitat before they can mature into adult mosquitoes and disperse. Larvicide treatment of breeding habitats help reduce the adult mosquito population in nearby areas.

Liquid larvicide products are applied directly to water using backpack sprayers and truck or aircraft-mounted sprayers. Tablet, pellet, granular, and briquet formulations of larvicides are also applied by mosquito controllers to breeding areas.

Another method in use is bacterial insecticides.

Insects that are exposed to the Bacillus species have trouble digesting food they eat after the exposure. They then die of starvation.

Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt, is a microbe naturally found in soil. It makes proteins that are toxic to immature insects (larvae). There are many types of Bt that target different insect groups, including beetles, mosquitoes, black flies, caterpillars, and moths, according to the EPA.

Bt has been registered for use in pesticides by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) since 1961.

For more information, call the National Pesticide Information Center at 1 (800) 858-7378.

Sunscreen can help protect the skin from UV rays, regardless of whether it's sunny and warm outside.

Tips to protect your skin

There are many things to consider when protecting oneself from insects — some bugs require very different solutions. Avoid being outdoors at dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active, and wear protective clothing and repellents.

Most repellents can be used on children and pregnant or nursing women, though products containing oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) or PMD should not to be used on children under three years old. CDC states parents should not apply repellent to children’s hands because they tend to put their hands in their mouths.

The CDC suggests using EPA-registered insect repellents that contain at least 20-percent DEET for protection against mosquitoes, ticks, and other bugs. Other repellents protect against mosquitoes but may not be effective against ticks or other bugs.

Of the products registered with the EPA, those containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, and some oil of lemon eucalyptus and para-menthane-diol products provide longer-lasting protection because of higher percentages of the active ingredient. However, this increase in protection time maximizes at about 50-percent DEET, the CDC states.

Other CDC tips include:

• Do not spray repellent on the skin under clothing.

• Consider using clothing and gear (such as boots, pants, socks, and tents) that are treated with permethrin (an insecticide). You can buy pre-treated clothes or treat your own clothes. If treating items yourself, follow instructions carefully. Do not use permethrin directly on skin.

• As much as possible, wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants, socks, and a hat. Tuck your shirt into your pants, and tuck your pants into your socks for maximum protection. Some bugs, such as Tsetse flies, can bite through thin fabric.

• Do not use insect repellents on babies younger than 2 months old. Protect them by draping mosquito netting over their carrier or car seat. Netting should have an elastic edge for a tight fit.

The CDC states that people can, and should, use both a sunscreen and an insect repellent when they are outdoors. In general, the recommendation is to apply sunscreen first, followed by repellent.

Sunscreen and repellent

The CDC states that people can, and should, use both a sunscreen and an insect repellent when they are outdoors. In general, the recommendation is to apply sunscreen first, followed by repellent.

CDC states if using sunscreen, apply it first, let it dry, and then apply repellent.

It is not recommended to use a single product that combines insect repellent containing DEET and sunscreen. Repellent usually does not need to be reapplied as often as sunscreen.

Repellents that are applied according to label instructions may be used with sunscreen with no reduction in repellent activity.

However, limited data show a one-third decrease in the sun protection factor (SPF) of sunscreens when DEET-containing insect repellents are used after a sunscreen is applied. Products that combine sunscreen and repellent are not recommended, because sunscreen may need to be reapplied more often and in larger amounts than needed for the repellent component to provide protection from biting insects.

What diseases do mosquitoes carry?

Mosquito-borne diseases occur when a mosquito that is carrying a virus or a parasite bites a person and makes them sick. While there are many different types of mosquitoes in Oklahoma and worldwide, not all mosquitoes carry viruses or parasites that make people sick.

Several diseases transmitted by the bite of a mosquito include West Nile Virus, St. Louis encephalitis, LaCrosse encephalitis, and Western Equine encephalitis. Mosquitoes pick up the organism when they feed on infected animals. The organism is then transmitted to humans or animals while feeding.

Some mosquito-borne diseases are found in other parts of the world. Yellow fever is found in tropical South America as well as in sub-Saharan Africa. There is a vaccine that travelers may get to protect them from becoming sick. Dengue Fever is found in Africa, Southeast Asia, Western Pacific regions, Eastern Mediterranean, Latin America, and Caribbean.  Recently, Dengue Fever has also been reported in the Florida Keys and parts of southern Florida. Malaria is another mosquito-borne disease that is caused by a parasite that infects the blood. It is currently a problem in tropical or subtropical areas of Asia, Africa, Central and South America, parts of the Caribbean, Eastern Europe, and the South Pacific. Travelers to these areas should talk with their doctors about taking prescription medication to prevent them from getting malaria.

What diseases do ticks spread?

Diseases spread by ticks are among the most common travel-related illnesses, according the the CDC. Often overlooked, these diseases are frequently seen in travelers returning from safaris and other outdoor activities. Preventing tick bites, checking for ticks after being outside, and removing any attached ticks are essential steps in preventing tick-borne disease.

As in cases of West Nile virus from mosquitoes, no vaccine is available in the United States to prevent diseases spread by ticks, either.

Steps can be taken, however, to reduce risk of getting a tick bite:

• Wear appropriate clothing. When weather permits, people can minimize areas of exposed skin by wearing long-sleeved shirts, long pants, boots, and hats. Tucking in shirts, tucking pants into socks, and wearing closed shoes instead of sandals may reduce risk. Insect repellents, such as permethrin, can be applied to clothing and gear for added protection.

• Apply repellents only to exposed skin or clothing, as directed on the product label.

• Do not use repellents under clothing.

• Never use repellents over cuts, wounds, or irritated skin.

• Do not apply repellents to eyes or mouth, and apply sparingly around ears.

• When using sprays, do not spray directly on face—spray on hands first and then apply to face.

• Do not spray in enclosed areas, avoid breathing a spray product, and do not use it near food.

• Wash hands after application to avoid accidental exposure to eyes. Children should not handle repellents. Instead, adults should apply repellents to their own hands, and then gently spread on the child’s exposed skin. Avoid applying directly to children’s hands.

• Use just enough repellent to cover exposed skin or clothing. Heavy application and saturation are generally unnecessary for effectiveness. If biting insects do not respond to a thin film of repellent, apply a bit more.

• After returning indoors, wash treated skin with soap and water or bathe. This is particularly important when repellents are used repeatedly in a day or on consecutive days.

• Wash treated clothing before wearing it again. This precaution may vary with different repellents — check the product label.

• Stay out of tall grass, brush or heavily wooded areas; walk in the center of hiking trails.

According to the CDC, it can take several hours for a tick to attach and begin transmitting the disease, so the sooner the tick can be found and removed, the better. Checking for ticks frequently increases the likelihood of finding a tick before it can transmit the bacteria. Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors. Then do a full-body tick check with a handheld or full-length mirror. Parents should check their children for ticks under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist, and especially in their hair. Examine gear and pets; ticks can ride into the home on clothing and pets, and then attach to a person later. Last, tumble clothes in a dryer on high heat for an hour to kill remaining ticks.

CDC recommends contacting a doctor if seriously ill, especially with a fever. Share travel history, including what countries have been visited and what was done there. Be sure to tell the doctor about seeing or being bitten by a tick. Keep in mind that symptoms can appear after the return home or while abroad.

Checking it out in a timely manner can be crucial.

In 2015, Shawnee woman Jo Rogers barely escaped with her life –– losing all her limbs after contracting Rocky Mountain Spotted Tick Fever (RMSF). At the time she had no knowledge of being exposed to a tick bite. She was diagnosed well after the five-day window for treatment with Doxycycline had passed.

Untreated, RMSF has a death rate of nearly 75 percent, according to mayoclinic.org.

How to remove ticks

• Use tweezers, or fingers wrapped in tissue, to grasp the tick as close to the surface of the skin as possible.

• Use gentle, steady pressure to pull the tick from the skin, try not to twist or jerk the tick as you pull.

• Do not squeeze the body of the tick at any time while it is attached — you can release disease-causing bacteria into the bite wound.

• Do not squeeze the body of the tick to kill it after it has been removed — you can force disease-causing organisms out of the tick and onto/into your skin.

• Wash your hands with warm soapy water when finished removing the tick.

• Do not use matches, gasoline, nail polish remover, or other ointments as methods of tick removal.

• Inspect your body for additional ticks - don’t forget the back and the scalp.

• Note the date of tick removal and report any symptoms consistent with tick-borne illnesses to your physician immediately.

Tips were gathered from Oklahoma State Department of Health at ok.gov.

For story ideas, questions or concerns, reporter Vicky O. Misa can be reached at vicky.misa@news-star.com.