Healthy Living

The Bugs of Summer: Ticks, Skeeters, and When to Worry

May. 29, 2024

Oh, if only all insects could be butterflies and lightning bugs! Alas, on long summer days, pesky ticks and mosquitoes round out the mix.

Their bites are not just annoying; they can sometimes be dangerous because of bug-borne illnesses like Lyme disease and West Nile. For the facts, we spoke with infectious diseases specialist Dr. Brenda Tesini.

Do local ticks and mosquitos bring serious disease risks?

That’s a tricky question, because it depends on the bug. They could. But there’s a big gap between what’s possible and what’s probable.

Lyme disease is by far the most common tick-associated disease in Upstate New York due to a high number of infected deer ticks. These ticks can also transmit other diseases such as anaplasmosis and babesiosis.

It’s important to know the symptoms and how to spot dangerous ticks.

Anaplasmosis and Lyme Disease

Lyme disease symptoms may include:

  • Body aches and pains
  • Rashes
  • Neurological troubles like bad headaches, neck pain, or facial weakness
  • Most infected people see a bull’s-eye patch at the tick bite site, but this can be hard to spot.

Anaplasmosis symptoms are fever, headache, muscle aches and weakness. Unlike Lyme disease, it does not usually cause a rash.

Tick Season: What do ticks look like?

Tick on white background to demonstrate what a tick looks like. Small, black bug with 6 legs.

We’re smack in the middle of tick season. They become active when the weather stays above freezing, usually from April through November. The time of greatest concern is in late spring and early summer; these nymphal-stage ticks are small as a sesame seed, and hard to see.

How to check for ticks

Not all ticks are infected with the bacteria that cause Lyme disease or anaplasma. If an infected tick bites a human, it cannot spread Lyme disease unless it’s attached for at least 36 hours. That’s why it’s so important to check yourself for ticks after coming inside.

Three care providers pose like they are checking themselves for ticks: checking their arms, legs, sides.

Often, a tick bite doesn’t feel like anything and can go unnoticed. It’s important to always take off the clothes you were wearing, shower, and check your skin for ticks after you’ve spent time outdoors—especially in areas with higher grass or leaf litter.

Take simple precautions like applying bug repellant (choose one that has more than 20 percent DEET), sticking to the middle of trails, tucking your pants into your socks, and drying your dirty clothes in the dryer for an hour on high-heat (to kill stowaways).

Reminder: Don’t forget about your furry friends! Be sure to check your dog for ticks if he or she joined your hike.

Tick Pick: What if I find a tick on me?

Don’t panic. Grab a pair of fine tweezers and take hold of the insect’s mouth-area, then lift. Don’t smush the bug’s body. If the bug is engorged—meaning looking full—or you’re worried about incomplete removal, reach out to a health care provider.

Mosquitos and disease risk

Many wonder if mosquito-spread infections like West Nile virus or malaria are concerns in New York. West Nile can occur in New York, and very rarely, the serious Eastern Equine encephalitis (EEE) infection is seen.

There is no current cause for concern about malaria in New York. But if you’re traveling to malaria-endemic areas outside the US, it’s important to ask your medical provider if you should take medications to prevent malaria. Additionally, you should use mosquito repellents.

What is West Nile virus?

West Nile virus is spread through mosquito bites. Although many people infected with West Nile don’t have symptoms, mild cases might give rise to a fever, headache, or skin rash, and most people recover completely. Extreme, rare cases might include convulsions, muscle weakness, paralysis, and even dangerous infection of the brain (meningitis/encephalitis).

Bug spray

There are many ways to keep mosquitos away:

  • Use bug spray or mosquito spray for your yard.
  • Make sure window and door screens are free of rips and tears.
  • Rid your yard of stagnant water and change out waters in birdbaths.

Other mosquito-borne diseases include Zika virus, chikungunya virus, and dengue. These diseases are uncommon in the United States (aside from Puerto Rico).

If you’re concerned about a mosquito bite, reach out to a health care provider or begin an on-demand video visit.

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If you’re concerned about a mosquito bite, reach out to a health care provider or begin an on-demand video visit.

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