Harrisburg – As people spend time outdoors during the fall months, the Wolf Administration is reminding residents to protect themselves against the dangers of mosquito and tick-borne illnesses. So far this year, Pennsylvania has reported 14 human West Nile virus cases including one death in Philadelphia County and one death in Franklin County.
"Autumn is a wonderful season to spend time outdoors and participate in many activities, such as hiking and observing the fall foliage, but we want to make sure people protect themselves when they are outside," said Acting Secretary of Health and Physician General Dr. Denise Johnson said. "Both ticks and mosquitoes carry a number of serious diseases. It only takes a few minutes to prepare and protect yourself from these diseases."
Before heading outdoors, it is important to cover exposed skin, wear light-colored clothing (to aid in insect detection), tuck your pants into your socks and use a federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved insect repellent. You can also treat your clothing with a product containing permethrin to repel ticks. These steps will help protect you from both mosquitoes and ticks.
"Fall is for many the best time for hiking with beautiful colors, crisp air and fewer bugs, but many people are surprised to learn that there are ticks that remain active throughout the year," said Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn said. "That is why we are encouraging Pennsylvanians to remember to always take the necessary preventative measures to safely enjoy the outdoors and ensure the positive physical and mental health benefits of being active during the season."
West Nile virus (WNV) is spread by mosquitoes that breed in areas with standing and stagnant water. These areas include urban catch basins, clogged gutters, discarded tires, poorly maintained swimming pools, flowerpots, roof gutters and other containers that hold water. Reduce your chance of being bitten by an infected mosquito by eliminating standing water around your home.
Although mosquitoes can bite at any time of the day or night, the mosquitoes that transmit WNV are most active at dawn and dusk. To keep mosquitoes from entering a home, make sure window and door screens are in place and are in good condition.
WNV can cause a serious neurological infection, including encephalitis and meningitis. Symptoms of these infections include a severe headache, high fever, muscle weakness, neck stiffness, paralysis, possible confusion and disorientation, tremors, and even death.
"At this critical time, we are urging everyone to take precautions to keep themselves and their loved ones safe," said Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Acting Secretary Ramez Ziadeh. "Simple, commonsense actions can prevent mosquito and tick bites and can prevent the spread of diseases like West Nile virus and Lyme disease"
DEP's Vector Management Program will continue mosquito surveillance until the first frost of fall occurs. Around the home, habitat management, such as emptying standing water into containers, is always good practice. Tick surveillance will continue throughout the fall and winter on warm days above 40 degrees. The DEP recommends taking simple precautions such as wearing light-colored, long-sleeve shirts and pants to cover skin and using repellents containing DEET or permethrin-impregnated clothing. Mosquito numbers will diminish as cooler temperatures prevail, and frost will end the mosquito activity season. Ticks will remain active throughout winter on warm days, so precautions should always be taken above 40 degrees.
Adult blacklegged ticks, also known as deer ticks, are the most common carrier of Lyme disease and are the only tick species that is active during the fall and winter months in Pennsylvania. These ticks emerge during the fall and are typically active during the winter months on days where the temperature is above 40 degrees. In addition to Lyme disease, these ticks also can carry several other diseases, such as Anaplasmosis, Babesiosis and Powassan Virus, that have been reported in the state. Ticks typically thrive in tall grass, brush and wooded areas, but deer ticks can live in any habitat and have been found in every county in the state.
Once returning home, immediately check yourself, children and pets for ticks. Then, take a shower to remove any ticks that may be attached to your skin. Carefully check your clothing and gear and put them in the dryer on high to kill any ticks.
Areas to check where ticks can become attached are:
- Under the arms;
- In and around the ears;
- Inside belly button;
- Back of the knees;
- In and around the hair;
- Between the legs; and
- Around the waist.
Symptoms of Lyme disease can include a bull's-eye rash, fever, chills, headache, fatigue, muscle and joint aches, and swollen lymph nodes. It is important to know that someone bit by a tick carrying Lyme disease may not always get a bull's-eye rash.
Most states in the northeast and mid-Atlantic areas of the United States, Pennsylvania included, see a second peak of anaplasmosis in the fall due to bites from adult deer ticks. Symptoms of anaplasmosis can include a fever, chills, headache, fatigue, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
If you have symptoms of Lyme disease or another tickborne disease, it is important to speak to a doctor as soon as possible. Antibiotic treatment during the early stages of Lyme disease can help prevent the onset of more severe symptoms. If not treated promptly, Lyme disease may lead to severe health concerns affecting the heart, joints, and nervous system.
For more information on ticks and mosquitoes, visit www.health.pa.gov or follow us on Facebook and Twitter. For more information on Pennsylvania's West Nile virus control program, visit https://www.dep.pa.gov/Business/ProgramIntegration/Vector-Management/Mosquitoes/Pages/default.aspx
MEDIA CONTACTS: Mark O'Neill, DOH, email@example.com
Wesley Robinson, DCNR, 717-877-6315
Jamar Thrasher, DEP, firstname.lastname@example.org
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