Protect yourself from insect and tick-borne diseases

By Roseanne Radavich, Entomologist, U.S. Army Public Health CommandJuly 1, 2015

Deer Tick
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Lone Star Tick
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Insect and tick-borne diseases, such as malaria, dengue fever, yellow fever and Lyme disease are serious health threats which cause human misery, hardship and more than one million deaths worldwide each year. Many of these diseases can be prevented using a few simple protective measures.

Preventing Bites: Protect exposed skin from bites by applying EPA-approved repellents containing DEET or Picaridin. Wear permethrin-treated clothing, which repels ticks, mosquitoes and other biting insects. Some military uniforms and civilian outdoor clothing come pre-treated with permethrin. These garments are highly recommended because factory-treatment lasts the lifetime of the garment. If your uniform or clothing has not been treated with permethrin, you can treat it yourself with commercially-available aerosol/pump-spray products containing 0.5 percent permethrin, which typically lasts for six weeks and six washings. Wearing long pants and long-sleeved shirts also reduces bites by covering your skin.

Wear light colors to help you see and remove ticks from your clothing before they can bite you. Check yourself thoroughly for ticks after you have been in tick habitat, and promptly remove any ticks that have attached to your skin. Remove a tick by grasping it close to the skin with tweezers and pull up until the tick detaches. Secure the tick in a plastic bag or container, and kill it by freezing. Keep the tick, and bring it with you to the doctor in case you become ill. The doctor can use the tick to help diagnose your illness and provide speedy treatment.

Eliminating Habitats: Homeowners can also make simple changes to reduce the number of mosquitoes and ticks around their yards. A female mosquito prefers to lay her eggs in standing water, and under ideal weather conditions, it can take less than a week for her eggs to hatch and develop into adults. Break this weekly breeding cycle by removing the standing water from your yard. Empty any water accumulating in toys, lawn furniture, clogged gutters, tarp-covered vehicles and other artificial containers. Water containers like pet bowls and bird baths can be emptied and refilled weekly to get rid of mosquitoes. Ticks are most common in tall grass and shrubs and are moved around by animals. Keep your yard free of trash and debris, mow lawns, trim overhanging trees and shrubs and avoid feeding or attracting feral and wild animals into your yard.

Take your Medications: A few important insect and tick-borne diseases have vaccines or medications developed to prevent them. Highly-effective vaccines exist for diseases like yellow fever and Japanese encephalitis, while pills can be taken to prevent infection with malaria. Talk to your healthcare provider about insect-borne diseases, especially if you plan to travel. If a medication is not available, take other precautions to protect yourself.

Don't let insects ruin your trip and send you to the doctor! Take your medications, receive your vaccinations, use repellents on your skin and clothing and modify your yard to ensure that you have the best protection against insect and tick-borne diseases.

For more information on preventing insect-borne disease, contact the DOD Pesticide Hotline: 410-436-3773.

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U.S. Army Public Health Command