This summer, millions of Americans, and travelers in the U.S. will encounter the Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes potentially carrying the Zika virus, along with varieties of the North American black-legged tick carrying Lyme Disease.
How wide-spread the transmission of Zika will become is unknown. This is the first summer since some cases of Zika have been reported in the U.S. On the other hand, the black-legged tick, otherwise known as the Deer Tick, has been transmitting Lyme Disease in the U.S. for many years.
Travelers, wildlife and travel photographers, hikers, campers, and others enjoying parks, wildlife refuges, forests, and other outdoor venues in the range of these disease transmitting insects in the U.S., as shown on the map above, will need to take precautions to avoid their bites to prevent contracting Zika and Lyme Disease.
Deer Tick location:The major area prone to Deer Ticks and possible Lyme Disease infection is located in the Middle Atlantic states and New England, generally in wooded areas and along trails in forests and grasslands.
Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquito location:
The southern half of the U.S., north to New York City in the east, but primarily in the deep south, the Gulf Coast and Florida is home to the primary transmitting mosquito of the Zika virus, the Aedes aegypti. The Aedes albopictus mosquito, which can also carry Zika, is found in the U.S. almost everywhere the Aedes aegypti is located, but also ranges further north into the Middle Atlantic states and most of New England.
Especially active in the daytime, the female mosquitoes are the main cause for concern. They're the ones which bite, not the male, transmitting diseases through the blood. They are primarily found in areas with standing, stagnant water. They are even found in backyards from small wet flower pots, to spare tires filled with rain water to untreated swimming pools and drainage ditches.
Prevention:The methods listed below, used to prevent ticks and mosquitoes from biting us, can do a great job, but beware, they can't prevent every bite.
For Ticks and Mosquitoes:
• Wear walking/hiking boots, long pants and a long-sleeved shirt. Tuck your pants legs into your socks in boots and your shirt into your pants. Wear a hat that covers your head well, not a ball cap which leaves too many opportunities for mosquitos or ticks to bite.
• Check clothes and exposed skin for ticks and mosquitoes regularly while hiking.
• Use insect repellent. DEET (20-30% minimum) and Permethrin (0.5%) based products are generally effective, with DEET best for mosquitoes and Permethrin best for fighting ticks. DEET insect repellents should be applied to skin (Reapply DEET repellent to skin as directed.), but Premethrin repellents should only be used to treat clothing and never applied directly to skin. (Reapply to clothes after multiple washings according to directions).
• Keep long hair tied back.
• Walk in the center of trails, as far away from tall grasses and leaf litter as possible.
• Wear light-colored clothing with a tight weave to spot ticks easily.
• Perform a full-body tick check at the end of every hike and walk. Remove ticks promptly. Carefully check all hairy areas of your body closely.
• Take a bath or shower as soon as possible after completing your walk or hike to more easily find ticks on your body and in your hair.
• Avoid sitting directly on the ground or on stone walls.
• Camp away from tall grasses.
• Camp away from standing, stagnant water.
• When camping, sleep under a mosquito net.
Lyme Disease treatment:
If you are bitten by a deer tick, since they feed for extended periods, you may find it still attached to your skin. If it is, safely remove it.
Use a pointed tweezers to grasp the tick by the head or mouth right where it has entered the skin, NOT by the body. Pull firmly and steadily outward. DON'T jerk or twist the tick. Then clean the bite wound with rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide.
You'll need to monitor the site of the bite for the next 30 days for a rash. If a rash appears or you have flu-like symptoms, contact your physician immediately. Antibiotic treatment for Lyme Disease is available. Early treatment is essential.
According to the Mayo Clinic,
“If you're treated with appropriate antibiotics in the early stages of the disease, you're likely to recover completely. In later stages, response to treatment may be slower, but the majority of people with Lyme disease recover completely with appropriate treatment.”Zika virus treatment:
The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint and muscle pain, conjunctivitis (red eyes) and headaches, but most infected people won't have any symptoms. Illness from Zika is typically mild, but in some cases Guillian-Barré Syndrome results, which can be life threatening.
There is no vaccine to prevent Zika infection, or medicine to treat it. Instead, the symptoms are treated. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend Zika patients get plenty of rest, drink fluids, and take medicine such as acetaminophen or paracetamol to reduce fever and pain.
The CDC highly recommends people infected with Zika prevent mosquito bites to prevent transmitting Zika to others, especially during the first week of the disease. For some, Zika can stay in the blood longer than others, so prevent mosquito bites as much as possible for as long as possible, once infected.
The Zika virus is present in semen longer than in blood. The CDC recommends men, when having sex, use condoms for six months after being infected with Zika. At this time, it's unknown if Zika can be transmitted via oral sex. The CDC also recommends that couples who include a man who traveled to an area with Zika, but didn't develop its symptoms, should use condoms or refrain from sex for at least eight weeks after returning.
Both Zika virus and Lyme Disease can develop into serious health problems for those who are infected. Zika can cause serious birth defects in infected pregant women and women who become pregnant while infected. While Zika has not yet become a widespread problem in the U.S., its potential this year is very serious. Therefore taking the maximum precautions to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes or deer ticks while traveling within the insects' range is essential.