Mosquitoes, Ticks Carry Nasty Diseases

Citrus County Chronicle Online

Mosquitoes, ticks carry nasty illnesses

Tuesday, September 9, 2014 at 9:00 am

Lyme disease, West Nile virus and St. Louis encephalitis are often featured in the news, and many patients come into our office fearing they acquired one of these diseases through an insect bite. In fact, the chances you will be infected with one of these illnesses in Citrus County are slim.

West Nile virus and St. Louis encephalitis are spread from birds to humans by mosquitoes. Most people who are infected do not experience any symptoms. About one in five with West Nile virus experience fever, vomiting, headache, body aches, skin rash and fatigue. The fatigue may last for several weeks. Less than 1 percent of those infected with St. Louis encephalitis experience similar symptoms. In a few cases, the infections spread to the central nervous system, with serious consequences.

Children are less likely to be affected by these illnesses. Older adults and people with compromised immune systems or other health problems are the most vulnerable.

Dengue fever and chikungunya are spread from person to person by mosquitoes. These diseases are rare in the U.S., but common in the Caribbean and other popular tourist destinations. See your doctor if you have a high fever or other severe symptoms after returning from a trip abroad.

There are no specific cures for these mosquito-borne illnesses, but your doctor can treat the symptoms.

Lyme disease is spread by the blacklegged tick, which is common in the northeastern states. From 2002 through 2011, an average of 67 cases of Lyme disease per year were reported in Florida, and

77 percent of these were acquired while the person was traveling in another state or country.

Lyme disease may be difficult to diagnose because the first symptom, a red bull’s eye rash, often vanishes before other flu-like symptoms appear. It can be cured with antibiotics in its early stages. If left untreated for a long time, Lyme disease can cause problems with the brain, heart, joints and muscles.

A little redness and irritation around a tick bite is normal. If there is a red bull’s-eye lesion around the bite that expands to 3 inches or more, you may have STARI (southern tick-associated rash illness). STARI sometimes occurs around the bite of our southern lone star tick and may be accompanied by fatigue, headache and fever. It does not have long-term effects, but your doctor may prescribe antibiotics.

There are no vaccinations against mosquito- and tick-borne illnesses. The best protection is to avoid insect bites by taking the proper precautions:

Keep your screens in good repair and use air conditioning to control mosquitoes inside your home.

Remove standing water from around your house. Change the water in pet bowls and pot plants every week, throw away cans and plastic cups, and maintain your swimming pool. Do not store old tires in your yard, and drill holes in tire swings so that water will drain out. Keep gutters and drainage ditches clear of debris.

Avoid being outside at dusk and dawn, when mosquitoes are most active.

Use insect repellents that contain 20 to 30 percent DEET on exposed skin and clothing. Adults should apply insect repellent on children, avoiding their hands, eyes and mouths.

To repel ticks, treat clothing and camping gear with products containing 0.5 percent permethrin.

If you are spending long periods of time outdoors, wear shoes, socks, long pants and a long-sleeved shirt. Light-colored clothing made of tightly woven materials keeps mosquitoes away from the skin.

Try to shower or bathe within two hours after hiking or picnicking in the woods. Conduct a full-body tick check. Examine children for ticks under the arms, around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist and in their hair. Also check pets and backpacks. Put your clothes in a hot dryer for about 40 minutes.

To remove a tick embedded in the skin, grasp the tick close to the skin’s surface with fine-tipped tweezers. Pull upward with steady, even pressure. If the head or mouth parts break off in the skin and you are unable to remove them with tweezers, just clean the area and leave the skin to heal. After removing the tick, wash the area and your hands with rubbing alcohol or soap and water. Do not pinch the tick between your fingers. Wrap it in tape, seal it in a plastic bag or submerse it in alcohol to kill it.

The Citrus County Mosquito Control District monitors and controls our mosquito population. Contact them if you have a problem with mosquitoes around your home.

Dr. Carlene Wilson is a board-certified internist and pediatrician in private practice in Crystal River. Call her at 352-563-5070 or visit


Disease Maps 2014. U.S. Geological Survey. (

Fight the Bite. Citrus County Mosquito Control District. (

Lyme Disease. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (

St. Louis Encephalitis. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. ( )

West Nile Virus. Florida Public Health. (

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