Hemby Children's Hospital

Fight the bite

How to protect yourself from ticks and mosquitos

If you’re hiking a trail, mowing the lawn or playing an outdoor sport, you’ll likely encounter a mosquito or tick. Unfortunately, these insects aren’t just a nuisance because mosquitos and ticks can be carriers of a variety of harmful diseases.

“Not all insects carry disease, but it is still very important that people take appropriate precautions,” said Caroline MacKellar, a physician assistant with Novant Health PrimeCare North Point, an urgent care center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

MacKellar said the most common tick-borne illnesses in North Carolina are Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Lyme disease and ehrlichiosis. Mosquito-borne illnesses in the Southeast tend to be La Crosse encephalitis, West Nile virus and Eastern equine encephalitis virus.

According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services’ Division of Public Health, tick- and mosquito-borne infections are common throughout the state. In fact, more than 850 cases were reported in 2014, 100 of which were associated from mosquito borne diseases acquired from traveling abroad.

While public awareness about tick- and mosquito-borne diseases has been heightened over the years, many people still rarely do anything to avoid them, according to experts. In fact, a 2015 study found just over half of people routinely take preventive measures to reduce their risk of being bitten by ticks when it’s warm outside.

“One of the best ways to lower your risk of mosquito or tick bites is to discourage them from breeding or hiding in your yard,” MacKellar said. “Dispose of trash, keep gutters clean and leaf-free, and cover pools and hot tubs.”

She also advised taking these simple precautions to avoid tick or mosquito bites:

  • Apply insect repellent containing DEET on exposed skin.
  • Wear clothing and gear, such as boots, pants and socks, treated with 0.5% permethrin.
  • Avoid wooded, grassy or damp areas.
  • Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors to wash off and more easily find ticks.
  • Conduct a full-body tick check using a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body, including under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist and especially in the hair.

“If you see an embedded tick, remove it immediately with a pair of tweezers,” MacKellar said. “It takes several hours for a tick to transmit bacteria into the skin. If you think it has been attached for more than 24 hours or if you’ve developed a rash, you should seek medical attention.”

She noted that most people will only develop an itchy rash when bitten. “However, if you experience a fever, headache, fatigue, nausea, joint pain, swollen lymph glands or disorientation after being bitten, you will want to consult your doctor,” she said.