Fight the Bite: Tips to avoid illnesses spread by ticks and mosquitoes
Courtesy of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services
WISCONSIN – As any Wisconsin resident knows, ticks and mosquitoes are quite the nuisance. But more than just an annoyance, they can also spread many illnesses to people. Preventing bites from ticks and mosquitoes is the key step in avoiding these illnesses.
The two types of ticks that most commonly bite people or pets in Wisconsin are the deer (black-legged) tick and the wood (dog) tick. A third type of tick that can bite people or pets in Wisconsin, the lone-star tick, is less common. Bites from all three of these ticks can make you sick. In Wisconsin ticks can spread anaplasmosis, babesiosis, Borrelia miyamotoi, ehrlichiosis, Lyme disease, Powassan virus, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and tularemia.
Illnesses spread by ticks can be prevented if you take the proper steps.
- Use insect repellents with 20%–30% DEET, 10–20% Picaridin, 15–20% IR3535, or 30–40% oil of lemon eucalyptus on exposed skin and clothes to prevent tick bites.
- Be careful when using products on children.
- Parents should apply repellents to their children, and be sure to avoid hands, eyes, and mouth.
- Do not use oil of lemon eucalyptus on children under three years of age.
- Apply permethrin (a pesticide that kills ticks) to clothes, shoes, and gear to prevent tick bites. Permethrin kills ticks when they crawl on your clothes. It lasts through several washes after it is applied. Do not apply directly to skin.
- Carefully apply repellents according to the label instructions.
- Some products have to be applied more often than others. Find which repellent is right for you at the Environmental Protection Agency website (www.epa.gov/insect-repellents/find-repellent-right-you).
- For more information on insect repellents, visit the Department of Health Services (DHS) Tick and Insect Repellents webpage (www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/environmental/repellents.htm) and read Insect Repellent Essentials: A Brief Guide from the Northeast Regional Center for Excellence in Vector-borne Diseases.
- Wear long sleeves, long pants, and long socks to keep ticks on the outside of clothing.
- Wear light-colored clothing to make ticks easier to spot.
- Tuck shirts into pants and pants into shoes or socks to keep ticks on the outside of clothing.
- Tape pant legs where pants and socks meet so that ticks cannot crawl under clothes, if outdoors for a long time.
- Walk in the center of trails and do not brush up against plants on the edge of trails.
- Avoid wooded and brushy areas with tall grass and leaf litter.
- Perform daily full-body tick checks after being outdoors in areas where ticks may be present, even in your own yard.
- Check all parts of the body carefully, especially the armpits, behind the knees, scalp, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, and groin.
- Parents should check their children for ticks.
- Make sure your clothing, gear, and pets don’t have ticks before going inside. Use a veterinarian prescribed tick prevention treatment on pets.
- Take a bath or shower as soon as possible after coming inside to find and wash off any ticks on your body.
- Kill any ticks that may still be on clothing: Tumble dry clothes in a dryer on high heat for 10 minutes. If clothes are damp, tumble dry on high heat for 60 minutes.
Not all of the 50+ species of mosquitoes in Wisconsin bite humans, but many of those that do can spread diseases. In Wisconsin, mosquitoes can spread Eastern equine encephalitis, Jamestown Canyon virus, La Crosse encephalitis, St. Louis encephalitis, and West Nile virus. There are also illnesses that you can get from mosquitoes when you travel outside of the United States. Some of these diseases are chikungunya, dengue, Japanese encephalitis(link is external), yellow fever, and Zika virus.
Much of the guidance provided for ticks also applies to mosquitoes. Be sure to follow these tips as well:
- Wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants, socks, and shoes outdoors during peak mosquito activity hours. Apply repellent to any bare skin not covered by clothing.
- Wear loose-fitting and thicker clothing so it is more difficult for mosquitoes to bite through clothes to your skin.
- Wear head nets if you go into areas with high mosquito activity.
- Place screens on windows and doors, and check them often to make sure they are sealed tightly and in good condition.
- Stay indoors during peak mosquito activity hours, usually dusk and dawn for most mosquitoes found in Wisconsin.
For more information, visit www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/fight-bite/index.htm.