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Mosquito and tick season: IU expert shares tips on how to stay safe

Jun 7, 2023

It’s that time of year, when unwelcome pests join the backyard barbecue or baseball game. But mosquitoes and ticks can leave behind more than just a nasty bite. In most cases, people infected with tick- or mosquito-borne illness don’t feel sick, but some individuals can develop symptoms like fever and more serious, sometimes fatal, illness.

A male Rocky Mountain wood tick, which can spread Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Photo courtesy of the CDC A male Rocky Mountain wood tick, which can spread Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Photo courtesy of the CDC

Rates of death due to illnesses spread by ticks and mosquitos vary depending on where you are in the world, which makes it important to take precaution whether you’re in Indiana or traveling.

“Mosquitoes are the deadliest animal on the planet,” said Graham McKeen, director of public and environmental health for Indiana University Environmental Health and Safety. Mosquito-borne illnesses are the cause of about 725,000 human deaths worldwide each year.

Ticks also carry life-threatening diseases. Lyme disease is the most commonly reported tick-borne illness in Indiana and the nation, yet it’s estimated that most cases go undiagnosed.

Each year, members of the IU Environmental Health and Safety team trap mosquitoes on IU properties like Bradford Woods, providing vital information about West Nile Virus and other mosquito-borne illnesses to the Indiana Department of Health. This effort to locate disease-spreading mosquitoes helps prevent illness and educates the public about potential health risks.

“There are 3,500 species of mosquitoes on the planet, and about 60 known species in Indiana,” McKeen said. “It’s only the female mosquitoes that bite us because they need a blood meal to produce eggs.”

Tubs of a smelly alfalfa and water mixture are set out by the Environmental Health and Safety team to capture mosquitoes. Photo... Tubs of a smelly alfalfa and water mixture are set out by the Environmental Health and Safety team to capture mosquitoes. Photo courtesy of IU Public Safety

Just before dusk and dawn, McKeen and his team put out big smelly tubs of brewed alfalfa and water that are kept out overnight to collect mosquitoes. In the morning, the insects are placed in a freezer. After they’ve been preserved, their species is identified, and they are sent to state officials who test for diseases.

Environmental Health and Safety has also worked with the Indiana Department of Health on statewide efforts to surveil and test ticks. By dragging a sheet of corduroy or other material across high grasses, they can gather samples of ticks to be tested for disease or to learn about the range of various tick species.

While IU and state officials gather information to mitigate risks to public health, there are ways individuals can protect themselves.

Reduce the risk of tick- and mosquito-borne illness by:

  • Wearing EPA-registered insect repellent that contains DEET, picaridin, IR3535 or oil of lemon eucalyptus.
  • Removing sources of standing water where mosquitoes lay eggs. A source as small as a bottlecap of water can be an egg-laying site for mosquitoes.
  • Staying in the center of trails when hiking to avoid brushing against tall grass and plants.
  • Wearing long sleeves and pants if possible; tuck pant legs into socks and wear light-colored clothing.
  • Mowing your lawn frequently and placing wood chips or gravel between your lawn and wooded areas to restrict ticks from migrating into recreational spaces.
  • Checking for ticks and/or showering shortly after being in areas with potential high-tick activity, as it generally takes ticks 24 to 48 hours to transmit a disease.
  • Removing ticks quickly if attached to you by using clean, fine-tipped tweezers. Grab the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible, and then pull upward with steady, even pressure.

If you have been in areas with high tick or mosquito activity or have experienced a recent bite, self-monitor for symptoms for up to 30 days. If you experience aches, pains, fatigue, fever or chills, or develop an unexplained rash, follow up with your health care provider and inform them of your potential recent exposure.

Using these methods and others can help prevent mosquito and tick bites and reduce the spread of diseases.

Find more information about pests and steps you can take to protect yourself and others on protect.iu.edu.

Author

IU Newsroom

Mary Keck

Communications Manager, Public Safety

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