May is Tick and Mosquito Awareness Month in North Carolina, when health officials remind people of the dangers of disease-carrying pests.
“Spring rains and warmer weather provide ideal breeding conditions for mosquitoes and ticks,” said State Health Director Jeff Engel. “Ticks and mosquitoes can be more than just a nuisance - they can also make people seriously ill. Now is the time to fight the bite.”
There are simple steps one can take to avoid being victimized by parasites.
“What you want to do is take preventative measures,” Richmond County Environmental Health Supervisor Mike Norton explained Friday. “Things like don’t have containers with standing water in your yard and treat your animals. The water attracts the mosquitoes and we all know deer and other animals carry insects.”
The health department is getting ready to start spraying for mosquitoes over the course of the next couple of weeks, Norton explained, but residents should still take the initiative to make their property less hospitable now.
“You can make your back yard a lot less tick-friendly,” Chief of Public Health Pest Management in the state Nolan Newton said. “Keep grass short and remove plants that attract wild animals like deer and rodents, which carry ticks.”
In addition, Newton highlighted the need to act now to eliminating mosquito breeding grounds before the season is fully on.
“Take a good look at your environment now, before the mosquitoes really start biting,” he continued. “Things like bird baths, old tires, planters and even small containers, like tin cans, can give mosquitoes a place to thrive.”
Newton added that tightly securing screens on all openings on rain barrels will allow one to practice water conservation while keeping mosquitoes away.
Health officials also suggest insect repellent, which is particularly effective against mosquitoes.
DEET, picardin and oil of lemon eucalyptus are recommended by the Centers for Disease Control to keep mosquitoes away, but oil of lemon eucalyptus is not safe for children under three.
Repellents containing permethrin are also effective on ticks, but should be applied only to clothing.
In Richmond County, Norton explained Lyme Disease is not very common, but Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is seen much more. Last year there were 260 cases of the illness reported statewide.
“Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is sometimes mistaken for flu because the symptoms are very similar,” Norton said. “Eastern Equine Encephalitis is also (a mosquito-borne disease) we don’t want here. In a human, there’s no vaccine and no treatment, and there’s a 50 percent survival rate.”
Norton urged horse owners to have their animals vaccinated, as it is available for horses.
The state release explains removing the tick right away is the key to staying infection-free. It suggests using tweezers to remove them, getting as far toward the head as possible and pulling steadily.
The Tick-Borne Infections Council of North Carolina, or TIC-NC, also offers tips on proper tick removal.
It advises not to burn ticks while attached, or use any substance on the tick that may cause it to regurgitate infected materials into the wound, not to use bare fingers or squeeze or twist the body and use alcohol on tweezers and wound.
It is also helpful to note what day you removed the tick, and consult a physician if illness occurs within two weeks or a rash develops on the spot that was bitten within a month.
Staff Writer Philip D. Brown can be reached at (910) 997-3111 ext. 32, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.