A warm spring and the onset of summer means Oklahomans are enjoying outdoor activities. But a bite from a tick or mosquito could quickly put a damper on the fun. Ticks and mosquitoes can carry dangerous diseases. The Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) advises persons who participate in hiking, camping, bicycle trail riding, yard work, gardening, and other outdoor activities to follow tick and mosquito bite prevention tips.
Each year, Oklahoma ranks among those states with the highest number of reported cases of tickborne illness. In 2011, there were 472 cases of Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis, and tularemia reported to the OSDH. Of those cases, 121 required hospitalization and two persons died. Thus far in 2012, 20 cases of tickborne illness have been reported to the OSDH, with three cases hospitalized.
Symptoms of a tickborne illness may include fever, headache, muscle aches, vomiting, and abdominal pain. Other symptoms may include skin rash and swelling of the lymph nodes in the area of the tick bite. Tickborne diseases can be treated successfully with early diagnosis and appropriate antibiotics.
OSDH public health officials recommend the following tick bite prevention precautions:
- Wear light-colored clothing to make ticks easier to see.
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants tucked into socks to deprive ticks of attachment sites.
- Wear closed-toe shoes, not sandals.
- Hikers and bikers should stay in the center of trails to avoid grass and brush.
- Check for ticks at least once per day, particularly along waistbands, in the armpits and groin area.
- Use an insect repellent with DEET on skin and clothing according to directions. (Insect repellent with permethrin should be used on clothing only and according to directions.)
- Check your pets! Dogs and cats can get tickborne illnesses too, and they are a traveling tick parade, bringing ticks into your home.
Another pesky critter is the mosquito. An infected mosquito can transmit West Nile virus (WNV). While only one case of WNV was reported in Oklahoma in 2011, 329 cases and 20 deaths have been reported in the state from the disease since 2002. No cases have yet been reported in Oklahoma this year but Oklahoma health officials note that Texas has already recorded its first case of the season.
Symptoms of WNV include sudden onset of fever, headache, dizziness, and muscle weakness. Long-lasting complications can include difficulty concentrating, migraine headaches, extreme muscle weakness and tremors, and paralysis of a limb. Some of the neurological effects of WNV may be permanent.
Among the precautions to take against mosquito bites are the following:
- Use insect repellent on exposed skin and clothing when you go outdoors and according to product instructions, particularly if you are outdoors between dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are more likely to bite.
- Repair or install window and door screens to keep mosquitoes out of your home.
- Prevent items such as buckets, cans, pool covers, flower pots, and tires from holding standing water so mosquitoes don’t have a place to breed.
- Empty your pet’s outdoor water bowl and refill daily.
- Clean leaves and debris from rain gutters regularly to ensure they are not clogged.
If you have symptoms of a tickborne illness or WNV within 14 days after a tick bite, mosquito bite, or participating in outdoor activities, contact your health care provider immediately. For more information, visit http://ads.health.ok.gov and click on “Disease Information” then “Tickborne and Mosquitoborne Diseases.”