DIDHD: Beware of diseases that stem from bites

Biting ticks, mosquitoes and insects usually are an annoyance, seemingly bent on keeping us from fully enjoying being outdoors.

But these days, unfortunately, both six- and eight-legged pests can represent so much more of a threat than just a creepy-crawly, stalking source of irritation.

Word came Tuesday that a La Crosse woman in western Wisconsin had become that state’s first death attributed to Rocky Mountain spotted fever, a tick-borne disease that as the name implies usually occurs much farther west.

While the death occurred in early May and hundreds of miles from the Upper Peninsula or even northern Wisconsin, it points up the continuing dangers that exposure to ticks and mosquitoes represents — and why the public needs to guard itself against these pests.

The Dickinson-Iron District Health Department is kicking off a month-long awareness campaign on what can be done to prevent illness and protect the health of Dickinson and Iron County residents and visitors.

“Be aware of potential infection from various sources during the summer months, but do not let it keep you from enjoying the many activities that the counties have to offer for fun and recreation,” said Daren Deyaert, health officer. “You can protect yourself and your family by taking special precautions.”

One focus will be on awareness about vector-transmitted illnesses such as Lyme disease and West Nile virus.

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection resulting from the bite of an infected deer tick. Early symptoms may include a distinctive rash at the site of the tick bite, fever, headache, fatigue, eye symptoms, and muscle and joint pain.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Service’s website has a wealth of information on Lyme disease and prevention strategies. These include wearing light, long clothing that allows ticks to be spotted more easily; staying on trails and groomed paths in wooded and tall, grassy areas; using appropriate repellants; and checking skin for ticks when coming indoors from areas where ticks are likely to reside.

It takes about 24 to 48 hours of attachment for a tick to transmit the bacterial infection, so checking daily can be very effective at preventing disease.

West Nile virus is spread to humans primarily by the bite of an infected mosquito. A mosquito becomes infected by biting a bird that carries the virus. Most people who are infected with West Nile virus either have no symptoms or experience mild illness such as fever, headache and body aches.

Again, avoidance is important. Strategies to avoid exposure include wearing long, protective clothing, using appropriate repellants, getting rid of standing water in your yard when feasible and staying indoors when mosquitoes are very active. If you have symptoms of concern, contact your health care provider.

The DIDHD also is warning against rabies, again on the heels of a state report earlier this month that 22 bats already have tested positive for rabies this year in Michigan, compared with nine at this time in 2017 and 35 bats in total for all of last year. Two skunks have tested positive for rabies in 2018 as well.

Rabies is contracted through a bite or scratch from an infected animal. It also can be transmitted if saliva from an infected animal gets into an open wound or into a person’s eyes, nose or mouth.

Once a person develops symptoms of rabies, it is almost universally fatal, so reducing exposure is crucial. Make sure cats and dogs in the household are current on rabies vaccinations and avoid contact with unfamiliar or stray and wild animals.

Those who fear they may have been exposed should contact their health care provider or the health department. Don’t wait to seek treatment, as highly effective preventative treatment is available if done before the disease takes hold.

COMMENTS