In 2019, Margaret Nicklas reported in the Texas Standard about diseases carried by mosquitoes and ticks. In Texas where mosquitoes thrive, tick-borne disease are often overlooked.
A mosquito can cause more than an itchy bite as it can carry diseases such as yellow fever or West Nile virus, which can be serious and even deadly.
Ticks haven’t been a major concern in Texas until recently. Dr. Ben Beard of the Division of Disease Control and Prevention at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports tick-borne diseases have more than doubled in recent years. He reports in Texas there has been a steady increase in the key tick-borne diseases although still not as dramatic as other parts of the United States.
In Texas, “spotted fever” diseases are more prevalent than Lyme disease. Spotted fever is what officials now called Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and its close relatives.
While ticks and their diseases aren’t new, Dr. Beard explains understanding tick (and mosquito) diseases is complicated and constantly changing. Human activity, like global commerce and international travel, along with land use patterns and climate change can spread or force germs and their carriers to new areas. What was true before may no longer be true.
C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital did a poll this year to evaluate how parents protected their children from mosquitoes and ticks and made recommendations for prevention of their bites. Most parents said they usually use bug spray for their children, but they’re much more likely to use it when they go to wooded and swampy areas than in a local park or their yards.
While DEET protects against mosquitoes, it’s less effective in repelling ticks. Repellents containing picaridin provides better protection against ticks and are a safe option for children 2 months and older. Parents should be conscious of keeping young children from getting repellent on their hands or faces to prevent irritation on the eyes and mouth.
The best repellent for ticks is permethrin, but users should only spray it on clothing and never directly on skin. It’s recommended to wear long sleeves and tuck pants into socks.
Nearly half of parents polled chose a repellent specifically advertised for children while 30 percent use “natural” or homemade products. Oil of lemon eucalyptus is among recommended alternatives for those who prefer a chemical-free repellent but should only be used for children older than 3 years old.
Check for ticks after being outdoors and, if you find any, carefully remove using a fine-tipped tweezer grasping the tick as close as possible to the skin and pulling steadily upward with even pressure. If the mouth parts break off in the skin try to remove with the tweezers. Flush or drown the tick. Don’t squeeze it as you might spread the germs. There are commercially available tick-pickers.
If you think there might be an infection from a tick bite, see a doctor quickly as early treatment for tick-born disease is the key.