It’s the time of year when many people are spending time outdoors. But some worry about encountering mosquitoes or ticks that might be carrying a disease.
So, just how real is the threat? And what can you do to protect yourself from ticks and mosquitoes?
Ben Beard of the Centers for Disease Control's Vector-Borne Diseases Division says there’s no sugarcoating the risk of contracting Lyme disease or other vector-borne illnesses. He says more than 700,000 cases were reported in the United States from 2004 to 2017.
“This number of reported cases of disease from mosquitoes, ticks and fleas has more than tripled over this period of time,” Beard says.
More than 75% of those cases were caused by ticks. And those numbers are based on reported cases only, notes Beard.
“The actual number of actual disease cases is somewhere between 10-and 70-fold greater,” he says.
Beard says more people are being diagnosed with Lyme disease: "Maine, up through New York, all the way across to Wisconsin and in Minnesota,” he says.
But Beard says there’s no single reason for the uptick.
"Part of that is because we’ve seen changing land-use patterns, resurgence of deer populations. We have people who are building suburban areas into these places where there are more and more ticks," he explains. "And what happens is more people are exposed to more ticks and more bites and so there’s a greater risk for being exposed to a tick-borne pathogen."
The CDC is charting trends and has also established five regional centers to up its surveillance capacity, according to Beard.
Vector biologist Lyric Bartholomay codirects the Midwest site, which is located at UW-Madison. One of the creatures she’s keeping track of is the Asian tiger mosquito that showed up in Wisconsin two years ago.
"Once established, it’s really quite a miserable species," she says. "It’s a daytime feeder and the bite is really obnoxiously painful. They are just really pestiferous, but also have the potential to transmit a number of different pathogens."
Tips To Protect Yourself From Ticks & Mosquitos
- Wear repellant, which Beard says is your best line of defense.
- Wear light-colored clothing to better see a lurking tick.
- Do tick checks when you come in from the outdoors.
- Take a shower when you get back inside. It will often remove ticks that aren't imbedded.
- Bartholomay suggests using a box fan when outdoors to keep the air moving.
- Check out the EPA’s repellents website for more protection tips.
A Nature Center’s Philosophy
Summer camp is in full swing at Riveredge Nature Center — 379 acres of forest, ponds and wetland in rural Ozaukee County. A variety of smells meet your nose – like products parents sprayed or spread on their kids to protect them from sun and biting creatures.
Riveredge's Executive Director Jessica Jens says some parents opt to send their kids to camp in what she calls physical barriers: “Long pants with your socks pulled up over your pants ... hats, and all of those things,” she says.
One adventure the kids go on is to Trailblazer Island, says Jens.
"They walk across the river ... and they’re covered with mud. It’s like so much fun," she says. "They’ll probably get a tick.”
That’s where the comprehensive after-camp tick check and good long shower come in, she adds.
Jens doesn’t want a fear of ticks or mosquitoes to dampen kids’ enthusiasm about embracing nature, but she agrees mosquitoes and ticks that carry disease are no laughing matter.
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