Bug bite borne illnessess are on the rise across the United States. Ticks, mosquitos and fleas carry Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain fever, Zika, chikungunya and even plague, and cases of such illnesses tripled between 2004 and 2016, according to a May 1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.
But how does this affect people in the Mid-Atlantic region, and in Carroll County Specifically?
While the general trend of increase holds across the country, the types of diseases and bugs to watch out for vary significantly by region, according to Dr. Henry Taylor, deputy health officer at the Carroll County Health Department.
The Times recently caught up with Taylor to learn more about how Carroll County has been affected by this increase in bite transmitted diseases, and what people can do to protect themselves.
Q: The CDC recently reported that illnesses transmitted by tick, flea or mosquito bite, such as Lyme disease, West Nile and even plague, have tripled over the last 13 years. They cite warming temperatures, international travel and swelling deer populations as some of the causes behind the national rise. Has Carroll County experienced a similar increase in diseases spread by biting bugs, and if so, are the same factors driving the increase here?
A: We track Lyme disease and while the last two years have seen higher numbers of Lyme cases in Carroll County, we think that is due at least in part to increased awareness of the disease. Lyme and West Nile cases can fluctuate each year based on weather and other factors.
With more people living near the woods, they are coming into closer contact with deer, white-footed mice, and marshy areas, which can increase contact with ticks and mosquitoes.
Q: Not every bite-borne illness is found everywhere: Zika, for instance is less common further north. What diseases carried by what insects are a concern for people here in Carroll County or in neighboring jurisdictions?
A: a.) Yes, all bites are a nuisance, mainly from a localized allergic reaction. Proteins in the saliva of the ticks, fleas, and mosquitos cause the itching and swelling.
b.) Various disease-causing bacteria and parasites enter our bodies along with the saliva. The deer tick transmits the most common disease of this type for our area — Lyme disease. The body's reaction to the Lyme disease bacteria causes the classic bull's eye rash within a few days or weeks; at a time when it is much easier to treat.
c.) Carroll County has rare cases of several other diseases with weird names which are also transmitted by ticks. Ehrlichiosis and anaplasmosis cause a flu-like illness that can be hard to diagnose. Fortunately, like Lyme disease, they are treated with three weeks of Doxycycline. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever causes a rash and has been seen in Maryland. Another tick-borne disease, babesiosis, is a parasite that enters human red blood cells, potentially causing a severe form of anemia. There has been little research on the complex illness caused when people get two or more of these infections at the same time!
d.) Occasionally, mosquito-borne diseases occur among Carroll County residents, usually when on vacation or living in other places. Most cases of malaria can be prevented by taking certain medications during the time of travel. In recent years, there has been greater awareness of the risk from viruses usually seen in the tropics, such as Zika, Chikungunya, Dengue, and Yellow Fever.
e.) Fleas are most commonly associated with the plague, which is rare and generally only occurs in the southwestern United States.
Q: Now that the weather is finally warming up and people are gardening and getting outside more, what precautions should they take to avoid being bitten, and what should they do if they find a tick, or a flea or mosquito bite?
A: a.) Prevention is always the best policy! For ticks and mosquitoes, reducing mosquito breeding sites and areas where ticks can hide is more effective than just treating areas with chemicals. Use repellants containing DEET or IR3535, or wear clothing treated with permethrins. See below for more tips to keep ticks and mosquitoes out of your yard.
b.) It's important to do frequent tick checks. If you do find a tick, remove it carefully, and keep close watch on the site of the bite for any rash.
c.) Remember that all bites are a break in the natural defenses of the skin. Keep them clean and consider covering with a thin film of antibiotic ointment.
d.) If you or your child develop any symptoms after a bite or exposure to mosquitoes or ticks, call your healthcare provider. Pictures of the bite or rash may help with the diagnosis. Rashes come and go quickly, and may not appear at the site of the bite. Signs and symptoms to watch for include:
- Body and muscle aches
- Joint pain
- Stiff neck
Q: Does the Carroll County Health Department have any programs aimed specifically at combating the spread of mosquito, tick or flea-borne diseases?
A: The Health Department educates all residents on how to "fight the bite" of mosquitoes and ticks. We also work with partner agencies such as Carroll County Recreation and Parks and local camps to post information on bite prevention. Our Environmental Health Bureau staff respond to complaints about stagnant water, and educate property owners on how to prevent mosquitoes from breeding.
Q: Where can people find additional information or resources about ticks, mosquitos and fleas and how to protect themselves from the diseases their bites can sometimes carry?
A: When you are outside:
- Wear long sleeve shirts and pants; tuck shirt into your pants and pants into your socks if hiking in fields or woods. Wear light colors.
- If using sunscreen, apply sunscreen first, then repellent.
- Use an EPA-registered insect repellent with approved active ingredients.
To reduce ticks in your yard:
- Remove leaf litter.
- Mow often.
- Clear tall grasses and brush around homes and at the edge of lawns.
- Place a 3-ft wide barrier of wood chips or gravel between lawns and wooded areas.
- Keep playground equipment, decks, and patios away from yard edges and trees.
- Keep unwanted wild and stray animals out of your yard with fences.
To reduce mosquito populations, dump and drain:
- Empty flower pots, pet dishes, trash cans and lids, bird baths, wading pools, and other things that hold water at least twice a week.
- Clean your yard of small items that can collect water, like toys and plastic bags. Mosquitoes can lay eggs in tiny amounts of water such as a bottle cap!
- Cover water storage containers and repair septic tanks.
- Clean gutters so water can drain.
- Make sure tarps don’t hold water.
For more information on how to "fight the bite" visit the Health Department's Fight the Bite page at cchd.maryland.gov/fight-the-bite-2/.