Spring and warmer weather have arrived, but so have the bugs. In an article this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported illnesses related mainly to ticks and mosquitos have tripled over the last 13 years. Plus, nine new diseases that come from bug bites were diagnosed for the first time in the United States over that same time period.
So what does this mean to residents of Pennsylvania? In 2016, Pennsylvania had 294 reported mosquito-borne illnesses, with the Zika virus being the most common. Remember, Zika transmission is mainly caused by travel, but Pennsylvania did have cases of West Nile Virus that was transmitted from mosquitoes, as well.
The commonwealth also had 11,550 reported tick-borne illnesses, with Lyme disease as the most common. Lyme disease is transmitted from deer ticks, which are very small ticks whose numbers continue to rise in our area. However, it is still OK for you and your children to go outside and enjoy the fresh air. In fact, it is encouraged. Here are some tips to improve your chances against our insect rivals:
Wear protective clothing. Parents and children should wear protective clothing such as lightweight long-sleeved shirts and pants. Avoid wooded and brushy areas with high grass and places known to have high concentrations of ticks and mosquitoes.
Use bug repellents. More specifically, it is OK to use citronella and other botanical oils against mosquitoes, but they appear to be less effective than other compounds containing DEET and picaridin, which also ward off ticks. Remember, for protection against ticks, higher concentrations of DEET are needed, so pay special attention to the label. The concentration specifically deals with how long the ingredient provides active protection. The higher the concentration, the longer the protection will last. I usually recommend a concentration of 30 percent which should allow for a considerable amount of time for protection. All of these products are safe on children. However, you want to avoid DEET and picaridin products in children less than 2 months of age. Furthermore, products containing oil of eucalyptus or para-menthane-diol should be avoided in children younger than 3 years.
Apply the repellents properly. For young children, make sure you apply it for them and avoid spraying it onto skin that will be covered by clothing. For children who can apply their own repellent, follow the instructions and check the reapplication times. Finally, if using sunscreen, as well, apply the sunscreen first and then the insect repellent.
Don’t forget to shower. Although these repellents are safe for children, once you return home, washing off the repellent is good skin care. While showering, use this time to examine for any ticks that may have been missed and can be removed.
Improve your home environment. Remove any standing water on your property, as this is a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Use a fan if you are outside. The wind that fans generate can alter how mosquitoes fly and may help keep them away. Don’t forget to check pets for ticks, as they can jump from the animal to you.