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How to Avoid Being Dinner: Preventing Tick and Mosquito Bites

A woman applying bug spray to a teenager's arm.

Summer is here, and so are the opportunities to enjoy the long days and warm weather. Ticks and mosquitoes share the outdoors with us, and 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, with some choosing to avoid it, 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.

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.

Monitor bites.

If you do find an embedded tick (one that is actively biting you), remove it promptly and either dispose of it or keep it in a container for identification and/or testing. 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 can have symptoms that are commonly misattributed to other illnesses like the flu, the common cold, or in 2020, 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.