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Ticks and mosquitoes target everyone

May 29, 2010 at 06:05 PM

If you are breathing, you are a target of mosquitoes and ticks.

The best way to combat them is to know when and where mosquitoes and ticks are likely to be encountered. Then you can match insect repellents and clothing to the activity and duration of time spent outside.

“A lot of it will depend on the activities,” says Linn Haramis, entomologist with the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Mosquitoes are less likely to be encountered at an afternoon baseball game when temperatures are high and humidity is low. An evening softball game located in a park near a wooded area may be another story.

Match repellents to the job

“Family” formulations of insect repellents with 5 to 10 percent concentration of Deet, the active ingredient, may be sufficient for an hour or two in the backyard, Haramis says.

But for longer durations, such as fishing trips or extended hikes, repellents with 30 percent Deet are recommended.

Alternatives to Deet, including Picaridin and Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus, have been found to be effective. Picaridin gets the job done without the oily feel of Deet.

Citronella is effective for a much shorter time, he says.

For excursions beyond the backyard, proper clothing is important even if shorts and tank tops are the usual summer uniform.

Light-colored, long-sleeve shirts provide contrast, and ticks are easier to find. Wear long pants and sturdy shoes.

“Ticks are part of nature, and consequently you ought to wear long sleeves and tape off the pant legs or tuck them into socks, no matter how ridiculous it looks,” he says.

Protective clothing and repellents have to work together.

“Very few repellents are going to work very well (if you are not dressed properly),” he says. “You have to adjust to your outdoors.”

Even when outside for shorter periods of time, people should not forget to use insect repellents at home, especially in the evening, when the Culex mosquito that can spread West Nile Virus is active.

“It is like driving a car with the seat belt on,” Haramis says.

They will find you

Mosquitoes key in on carbon dioxide but also are attracted to heat; dark, moving objects; chemicals excreted by the skin; and even some hormones.

Every animal respires, and ticks are drawn by carbon dioxide and heat.

They reach up from their perch on the end of a leaf or twig and try to catch a ride on an unknowing host using the sticky pads on their feet.

“It’s called questing,” Haramis says.

Ticks start low and try to reach the highest point possible.

“They don’t drop out of trees with parachutes,” he says.

Four-footed animals, such as dogs, have a hard time grooming the top and back of their head, and the tick is safer there.

“If you are outdoors and going to be exposed to ticks, do a tick check at least once a day,” he says.

If the tick already is embedded, and not just crawling around, remove the tick immediately by pulling it straight out.

“You want that tick off you as quickly as possible,” Haramis says.

Fortunately, there’s time.

It takes hours for a tick to build a feeding tube and exchange any fluids that might transmit disease. The tick won’t be able to spread Rocky Mountain spotted fever for about four hours. Lyme disease won’t be spread for 24-48 hours.

Tick- and mosquito-borne illnesses are rare, and may not be easily recognized by physicians. If you have a fever and a rash within two weeks of being bitten or being in an area where ticks possibly were present, tell your doctor.

Seed ticks

Deer tick nymphs are very small and easy to miss. Haramis says they are about the size of the head of a pin.

People often assign the name “seed” tick to all nymphs. Hikers sometimes can walk through an area right after a hatch and find themselves with dozens of seed ticks attached to clothing.

The good news is that very small ticks rarely transmit disease.

“Pathogens are not transmitted at a high rate from female to egg,”

Haramis says. “They have to feed on a small mammal first (to become infected).”

It all comes back to the old question, “Why does nature include things like ticks and mosquitoes?”

Haramis says it requires a realistic view.

“Nature is natural, and not everything natural is nice,” he says.


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