According to a new report from Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of Americans getting diseases transmitted by mosquito, tick and flea bites has more than tripled in recent years.
Health officials reported in May that since 2004, at least nine such diseases have been discovered or introduced in the country, with more than 640,000 cases reported during the 13 years from 2004 through 2016.
“Zika, West Nile, Lyme, and chikungunya—a growing list of diseases caused by the bite of an infected mosquito, tick, or flea—have confronted the U.S. in recent years, making a lot of people sick. And we don’t know what will threaten Americans next,” CDC Director Robert R. Redfield said. “Our Nation’s first lines of defense are state and local health departments and vector control organizations, and we must continue to enhance our investment in their ability to fight against these diseases.”
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Researchers analyzed data reported to the National Notifiable Disease Surveillance System for 16 notifiable vector-borne diseases, but note that many infections aren’t reported or recognized so it’s difficult to estimate the overall burden.
The most recent data shows the most common tickborne diseases in the U.S. were Lyme disease and ehrlichiosis/anaplasmosis.
Read the full CDC report here.
As the weather gets warmer and warmer, it’s important to be on the lookout for ticks in the yard, on our pets and near wooded, brushy areas.
How to prevent ticks
“Ticks thrive in moist, shady areas and tend to die in sunny, dry areas,” mosquito and tick expert Russ Jundt said.
So, you can prevent ticks by making cleanliness (and avoiding those moist, shady areas) a big priority during the warmer months — declutter your house, clean the yard and do both often, sanitizing every nook and crevice in your home.
In addition to simply avoiding very wooded or brushy areas, removing wood piles and keeping grasses and weeds in your own yard trimmed, the CDC recommends using a repellent.
Repellants with at least 20 percent DEET, picaridin or IR3535 should be used on exposed skin.
And for on-clothing repellants, choose products with permethrin.
Not sure which insect repellant is right for you? The Environmental Protection Agency has a nifty tool to help you navigate the world of repellents and find the right choice.
If you’re worried about ticks on your pets, try using a flea/tick collar, which has a natural repellent, or tick sprays.
The brand Bayer Seresto has collar options for both cats and dogs and has garnered the top ratings on Amazon.
But the best prevention is to keep your yards, bushes and trees trimmed and to check your pets often (especially behind their ears).
If you have more questions about preventing ticks on pets, ask your local veterinarian for safe products.
How to find and get rid of ticks
Planet Natural recommends wearing light-colored clothing when hanging around outside to better identify ticks and proceed with the removal process.
After being outdoors in possibly tick-infested areas, take a shower within two hours and then search for ticks.
If you suspect ticks found their way to your clothing or bedspreads, wash everything in hot water for 10 minutes.
Check your body (and your kids’, pets’ bodies) on the regular, focusing on areas such as the underarms, in and around ears, in hair, inside the belly button, behind knees, between legs and around the waist, the CDC advises.
If you find a tick (or two), the CDC recommends using fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as closely to the skin's surface as possible and steadily pull upward to avoid causing the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin.
If the mouth-parts do break off, remove them with tweezers. And if you can’t remove the mouth-parts, just leave it alone and let the skin heal by itself.
Once you’ve removed the tick, clean the bite area and wash your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub or simply use soap and water.
If the tick is still alive, submerge it in alcohol, place it in a sealed bag or container and wrap it tightly in tape before you throw it in the trash.
You can also flush the tick down the toilet, but the CDC does not recommend crushing the bug with your fingers.
If you think you need a professional, do your research to find professional fumigators to treat your home or, if you’re renting, refer to your leasing office, landlord or community members for resources.