For Release July 9, 2006

Protection From Insect Borne Diseases



     by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent

As we move past the 4th of July, and into the dog days of summer, we become at a greater risk of being exposed to insect borne diseases. In recent years, between the national media and the Internet, we have been hyper-sensitized to the risk of insect borne diseases. One would almost think that we never used to have a risk, when in reality, there have been potential problems for as long as Kansas has been a state.


Any insect bite can become a health problem, usually from a localized infection caused by excessive scratching. But what I’m most concerned about are the diseases that can be spread by mosquitoes and ticks. We’re not just talking West Nile Virus and Lyme Disease here. We need to think about other diseases such as Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, relapsing fever, tularemia, Q fever, tick paralysis, human monocytic ehrlichiosis, or human granulocytic ehrlichiosis. All of these have been found in Kansans. Granted, there may only be a few cases a year, but they are here.


It seems that every few years a new disease is being identified, such as Southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI). Are these new diseases, or is our medical technology finally able to detect the culprit of previously unknown afflictions? It’s difficult to say, but the risk is still there. Recently, ticks from north central Kansas were tested and found to contain a couple of the organisms that cause some of the above mentioned diseases. The organisms that cause Lyme disease and West Nile virus are probably present as well.


But the mere presence of an organism in a mosquito or a tick does not mean that you are going to contract that disease if bitten. Especially with ticks, they have to be attached and feeding for several hours before there is an opportunity for a disease causing organism to move into your blood stream. Careful checking of yourself, and removal of any hitchhikers once you’ve come inside, can help reduce the risk of contracting a disease.


Panic and paranoia are not the answers, however. Awareness and personal protection should be your watch words. We know that West Nile virus becomes much more common as the summer season rolls on. If you are going to be working or involved with recreation in outdoors areas, especially with lots of vegetation, you need to be taking steps to protect yourself.


Insect repellents with the active ingredient DEET will be the most reliable and consistent at protecting exposed skin from insect feeding. The use of products containing more than 30% DEET are not necessary to give you good control. Use lower concentration products for children. Retreat only as often as recommended on the label and wash well upon returning inside to remove the DEET. Non DEET products are available. Some of these products will give some protection, but many are no better than doing nothing at all!


There are clothing treatments that contain permethrin. These are very effective when applied to clothing and shoes and should be considered if you are spending considerable time outdoors. Of course check yourself, and your children over carefully for ticks after returning inside. If a tick is found, grasp it with tweezers close to the skin and pull backwards gently until the tick releases. This may take several minutes. If a rash, or any unusual symptoms develop after any insect bite, be sure to see you doctor immediately. Don’t let the fear of insect bites turn you into a prisoner in your house. Take some precautions, but enjoy the summer weather!


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