Spring is here and that means many people are getting more active outdoors. It’s also the time when ticks and mosquitoes become active in Tennessee. The Tennessee Department of Health urges Tennesseans to take preventive steps to avoid tick and mosquito-borne diseases like Zika virus, West Nile virus and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
“Being outside and enjoying warmer weather is good for all of us, and when you do, these days unfortunately it’s extremely important and fortunately, fairly easy to protect yourself from tick and mosquito bites,” said TDH Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH. “For most people a tick or mosquito bite will only cause an itchy spot on the skin or possibly mild, flu-like symptoms, but some of us can have a serious illness with major consequences like severe pain, long-term or permanent nerve or brain damage and even death. You just can’t tell, and there are not vaccines or cures for some of these illnesses, so we all have to be careful and aware.”
Zika virus is a mosquito-borne illness that remains a concern, especially when traveling to areas with known transmission. Zika virus can be a mild illness for most people, but for pregnant women, Zika infection during pregnancy can cause severe birth defects.
“We recommend women who are pregnant or at risk of becoming pregnant should not travel to a country with known Zika virus transmission,” said TDH State Epidemiologist Tim Jones, MD. “People returning to Tennessee from these areas should be very cautious and follow steps to prevent mosquito bites and to prevent sexual transmission of the virus during and after their trips.”
Find the latest information on locations with Zika transmission at www.cdc.gov/zika/prevention/plan-for-travel.html.
Other mosquito-borne illnesses including West Nile virus impact Tennessee every year. In 2017, there were 30 human West Nile virus cases and 17 cases of La Crosse virus among Tennesseans.
“It’s important to know there are no vaccines to prevent mosquito-borne illnesses like Zika virus, West Nile virus, Chikungunya and others. The only way to protect yourself from these diseases is by preventing mosquito bites,” said Jones.
• Use insect repellants such as DEET, Picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus or IR3535 on your skin, following all label recommendations for use. Pay particular attention to recommendations for use on children, and never apply any of these products around the mouth or eyes at any age. Consult your health care provider if you have questions.
• Reduce mosquito populations around your home. Mosquitoes can breed in any place that holds water, including clogged drains or gutters, watering cans and empty bottles.
• Use products containing permethrin, a highly effective insecticide, for clothing, shoes, bed nets and camping gear. Permethrin-treated clothing repels and kills ticks, mosquitoes and other pests and retains this effect after repeated laundering. Some products are available pretreated with permethrin. As a caution, however, it is not to be used directly on skin.
• Wear ’long, loose and light’ clothing to help prevent bites through fabric. It’s best to wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants. Tuck your pants into your socks and your shirt into your pants. Light-colored clothes are less attractive to many insects and may allow you to spot them more easily.
In Tennessee, the most dangerous illnesses spread by ticks are Rocky Mountain spotted fever and ehrlichiosis. Both of these diseases can be prevented by reducing tick bites, promptly removing ticks that do get on the skin and seeking medical care for a fever or rash after a possible tick bite.
“Fortunately there are antibiotics that can be prescribed for many tick-borne illnesses including Rocky Mountain spotted fever, but it’s still extremely important to take the necessary precautions to reduce tick bites,” said TDH Vector-borne Disease Program Director Abelardo Moncayo, PhD.
Reducing tick bites:
• Use Food and Drug Administration-approved insect repellants
• Wear long sleeves and long pants
• Keep grass trimmed and plants cropped around homes
• Treat clothing with permethrin
Learn more on reducing tick bites at www.cdc.gov/ticks/avoid/on_people.html.
The mission of the Tennessee Department of Health is to protect, promote and improve the health and prosperity of people in Tennessee. TDH has facilities in all 95 counties and provides direct services for more than one in five Tennesseans annually as well as indirect services for everyone in the state, including emergency response to health threats, licensure of health professionals, regulation of health care facilities and inspection of food service establishments. Learn more about TDH services and programs at www.tn.gov/health.