Doctors see rise in tick-borne illnesses and other insect-related infectionsJul. 30, 2012, 8:16 AM
Hot and humid temperatures across the Southeast may have people feeling lethargic, but conditions are perfect for active ticks and mosquitos. Insects are out in abundance and reaping the benefits from a mild winter and an early spring.
As a result, pediatricians with the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt are experiencing a significant increase in patients being seen for insect-borne illnesses and infections in the hospital’s Emergency Department and clinics.
Doctors at Children’s Hospital say tick bites are posing a significant threat to children this year. Tennessee is experiencing an increase in cases of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, a tick-borne illness that can become very serious if left untreated.
As of July 14, the Tennessee Health Department reported 304 cases of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever throughout the state, compared with 255 cases during all of 2011.
“We have a very low threshold for treating tick-borne illnesses in the summertime,” said Buddy Creech, M.D., assistant professor of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt. “Children can get sick pretty quickly from diseases like Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Ehrlichiosis, and they can even get meningitis from these bacteria.”
He said it’s important for parents and caregivers to perform daily tick checks on children and know the symptoms of tick-borne diseases — fever, headache, rash or sensitivity to light.
Children can sometimes contract these illnesses without a tick actually being found, Creech said, since ticks are adept at taking blood meals quickly and then dropping off.
If a tick is engorged, it’s important to remove it immediately from the skin, including all of the insect’s parts, to avoid inflammation and infection.
The Tennessee Department of Health recommends the following tick safety tips:
- Wear light-colored clothing to help spot ticks that may catch a ride on you.
- Tuck pants into socks to keep ticks off your legs.
- Apply EPA-approved repellents to discourage tick attachment. Repellents containing permethrin can be sprayed on shoes and clothing and will last for several days. Repellents containing DEET can be applied to skin, but must be reapplied every few hours. Follow label instructions for repellents, and pay particular attention to recommendations for use on children.
- Ticks may also be carried into your home on clothing and pets, so examine both carefully.
- Reduce tick habitats around your home by removing leaf litter and brush.
Although mosquito-borne illnesses like West Nile Virus are rare in the Middle Tennessee area, they are still very serious and can lead to meningitis or inflammation of the brain.
Creech said those traveling for the summer to Florida or other tropical areas should be careful. Some illnesses typically seen overseas—like Dengue Fever—are now being reported in the United States.
“When we do experience mosquito bites, we should care for them immediately with soap and water and use common sense,” said Creech. “Again, being aware of the symptoms and being proactive in preventing bites will help bring down instances of these diseases.”
Creech said mosquito repellants with DEET are very effective when applied correctly. Powerful oscillating fans can disrupt flight patterns of mosquitoes and can be very useful in outdoor areas of your home.
Additional mosquito safety tips from The Tennessee Department of Health include:
- Eliminate standing water near your home, which can serve as a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Many containers, even those as small as a bottle cap, can hold enough water for mosquitoes to breed.
- Keep windows and doors closed or cover them with screens to prevent mosquitoes from entering your home.
- Use insect repellant containing either DEET, Picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus or IR3535. Be sure to follow all product guidelines and age restrictions for use of repellants.
- Avoid being outdoors at dusk or dawn. If you must go outside during these times, wear long sleeves, long pants and socks to protect yourself.
- For more extensive outdoor activity or overseas travel where other mosquito-borne illnesses are present, consider treating clothing with a product containing the insecticide permethrin. Permethrin is not to be used on skin.
Visit Children’s Hospital’s website for more information on treating bug bites and stings or properly removing ticks. The Tennessee Department of Health offers additional information on recognizing and preventing mosquito- and tick-borne illnesses.