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Enjoying the Outdoors Without Tick and Mosquito Bites

Young woman applying insect repellant before an evening hike.
Courtesy: Canva

Originally Submitted: June 10, 2021

Outdoor activities seem extra inviting this year, and many people are already enjoying the long days and warmer temperatures. Ticks and mosquitoes share the outdoors with us, and while they would like to make us one of their meals, there are things you can do to prevent bites from both.

Wear repellent.

Using an insect repellent with a scientifically proven active ingredient is one of the most important things you can do. Many people are familiar with the active ingredient DEET, but there are others including picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus and IR3535. When wearing a repellent, make sure to read and follow all label directions. The label will let you know what arthropods the product repels, for how long, how often to reapply and what to do to remove the repellent from your body and clothing. If you’re going to be outside for a long time in prime tick or mosquito habitat, consider wearing clothing treated with permethrin, which will provide longer-lasting protection.

Wear long sleeves and long pants.

Having a physical barrier makes it harder for ticks or mosquitos to bite you. However, ticks especially will crawl under clothing, so it is still important to check for them when you are back inside. Throwing your possibly tick-infested clothing into the laundry (wash and dry) as soon as possible will help to reduce the number of ticks questing around your home looking for a blood meal.

Avoid hot spots.

If you can, change your behavior to avoid places and times of high tick and mosquito activity. The mosquitoes that vector West Nile virus tend to be most active between dusk and dawn. If you are outside at these times, wearing the appropriate clothing and repellent is key. Ticks tend to be found in more-overgrown or woody areas, but you can still pick them up even if you’re staying on the trails. Keep your yards mowed, as taller grass will often make it easier for ticks to hitch a ride on your shoes or legs.

Treat your pets.

Many people enjoy the outdoors with their animals, especially dogs. If you have pets that spend time outside and inside with you, make sure they are treated with an appropriate tick medication. Also note that some of these products only kill a tick when it bites, so you may still find that ticks hitchhike back indoors with you. Areas on pets that should be examined closely for ticks include their feet, legs, belly, and ears. In some cases, ticks will embed between a dog’s digits.

Monitor bites.

If you do find an embedded tick (one that is actively biting you), remove it promptly with a fine tipped tweezer and either dispose of it or keep it in a container for identification and/or testing. When removing an embedded tick, make sure not to squeeze the abdomen and focus on grabbing as close to your skin as possible. Squeezing the abdomen will force the tick to regurgitate and can lead to infections.

The American dog tick is the most-common species found in South Dakota, but areas of the state do have other species present. Tick-vectored diseases and West Nile virus (WNV) can have symptoms that are commonly misattributed to other illnesses, like the flu, the common cold or more recently, COVID-19. If you do become ill, make sure to tell your doctor about where and when you were last exposed to these arthropod vectors.

The past two years have had very low numbers of WNV cases, but the virus is still present in the state. We usually see the first confirmed cases in late June/early July. With an incubation time of up to two weeks, that means the initial infections usually occur in mid-June.