Prairie Doc Perspective Week of April 22nd, 2023
“Protecting Your Skin from Pests”
Kelly Evans-Hullinger, MD
Spring is finally here in the Northern Plains and summer feels just around the corner. As all we Northerners know, as soon as the temperatures hit even a mild degree on the thermometer most of us shed the jackets and long pants, and our skin is front-and-center.
The sunny season is prime season for mosquitoes and ticks, along with the itchy bites and all the unpleasant infections they can carry. Different species of mosquitoes and ticks can transmit different bacteria and viruses, and around the US we have some specific diseases to be concerned about.
West Nile Virus is an endemic seasonal virus spread by mosquitoes through much of the United States. Common symptoms include fever, headache and muscle aches; the most severe cases involve the brain and central nervous system. In these cases, paralysis and even death can occur.
No vaccine or targeted treatment exists for West Nile Virus, so the best thing we can do is minimize mosquito bites. This means wearing loose fitting clothing to cover skin and a good insect repellent. The most commonly used EPA-approved insect repellent, DEET, has an excellent record of being safe and effective.
Ticks come with their own risks. The most commonly known tick-borne disease is Lyme disease, but there are numerous tick-borne diseases endemic in different parts of the U.S., depending on the distribution of the ticks themselves that carry those diseases. Lyme disease is spread by the black legged tick (or deer tick) commonly found in the Northeast and near the Great Lakes. While here in South Dakota we tend to have very few annual cases of Lyme disease, it is much more common just to the east in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Again, when it comes to ticks, avoidance is best. If you plan to spend time in a grassy or wooded area, dress to make it hard for ticks to get to your skin with long pants. After your outdoor activity, bathe or shower and check your skin for ticks so that they can be removed as soon as possible. The longer a tick is attached, the more likely they are to spread disease.
If you do get a tick bite and are in a place where tick-borne disease is prevalent, it is a good idea to call or see your medical provider and provide them a picture of the tick if you can. Antibiotics are indicated in many tick-borne diseases, so don’t hesitate to go in when you have concerns about this.
Being outdoors is my favorite part about summer. To enjoy it safely, protect your skin from the pests looking for exposed skin to bite!
For more information on mosquitoes, ticks, and insect-borne diseases, visit cdc.gov/mosquitoes and cdc.gov/ticks