08/10/07 — County health officials are taking aim at summer's tick, mosquito dangers

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County health officials are taking aim at summer's tick, mosquito dangers

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on August 10, 2007 1:46 PM

Local health officials want residents to know that with warmer weather comes more reason to watch out for ticks, mosquitos and the diseases they bring.

Encephalitis and Rocky Mountain spotted fever are prevalent in this state, said David Hesselmeyer, bioterrorism coordinator with Wayne County Health Department. North Carolina is ranked sixth in the nation having the highest incidences of eastern equine encephalitis and, with Oklahoma, is ranked as having the highest incidences of Rocky Mountain spotted fever, he said.

Most people are more concerned with mosquito bites, Hesselmeyer said, but during the summer months, specifically May through September, both ticks and mosquitos are particularly active.

"What's interesting to me is that Rocky Mountain spotted fever occurs about 400 times more frequently than encephalitis in North Carolina," noted James Roosen, health director.

Funding, however, is typically geared toward mosquito control, he said.

Municipalities like Goldsboro, Eureka, Pikeville and Seymour Johnson Air Force Base are among the local areas that have mosquito control programs in place, but those living in the outlying areas are not as fortunate.

"County residents out in the middle of the county, where it's not as concentrated as municipalities, spraying for them is not really a good option," said Kevin Whitley, director of environmental health.

In those cases, Whitley suggested, it's more about personal protection -- wearing appropriate clothing when outdoors or in wooded areas, applying protective sprays or lotions.

Despite the higher temperatures, protective clothing is the best defense against ticks and mosquitos, said Janet Driggers, environmental senior specialist with the state's Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

"Wear shoes and socks, tuck socks into the pants so they can't get into your pants leg, pull up your collar," she said. "And wear some form of repellent."

Ms. Driggers covers 26 counties of the state, including Wayne County.

Locally, she said, "I trapped 14 different species of mosquitos last year. There are 60 species in the state."

Communities can also do their part to prevent proliferation of the problem.

Put simply, Roosen said, "Take ownership of their property and control breeding -- a pipe under the driveway, small tree holes, bird baths."

Most mosquitos are home-grown, he said, and if more people were aware of what to look for and treated their environment accordingly, many problems could be prevented.

Ms. Driggers sees merit in having big campaigns in neighborhoods, getting rid of all containers that might serve as breeding grounds, particularly anywhere there is standing water.

"If you don't find them in your yard, talk to the neighbors," she said, suggesting being more aware of kiddie pools and bird baths. "Dump them out once or twice a week."

Even a container as small as a plastic soda bottle cap can become a breeding ground for mosquitos, she noted.

There are a number of products on the market geared to warding off ticks and mosquitos but some -- like citronella candles, for example, Whitley said -- are popular but not necessarily effective.

Most are affordable, Ms. Driggers said. There are sprays for the perimeter of yards, sprays and lotion for the skin, and more expensive items like propane tanks that put out carbon dioxide, which has been found to attract ticks and mosquitos to humans.

"Dusk and dawn are when (mosquitos) are most active," Ms. Driggers said. "That's when most of the spraying is done. Try to stay inside during those times. Mosquitos don't like to be very active in the heat of the day, so they hide in the trees and grass. That's why it's important to cut the grass regularly."

Ticks are more often found in wooded areas, underbrush and deer runs.

But, Whitley said, "You'll run into ticks even around your house if you have high grass or dogs and cats running around."

Products containing the active ingredient of fipronil, when put out around residences, have been found effective in keeping ticks away, Ms. Driggers said.

She also recommends frequently giving pets baths and washing their bedding in hot soapy water.

In the event that a tick bites, there is a proper method of removal, Ms. Driggers said.

"Grab tweezers and get the (tick's) head, try not to squeeze the body and remove it. Come from the side -- get as close to your body where it's embedded," she said. "Don't squish the body. It will push fluid back into your body."

Not all bites are life-threatening, she said, but should still be treated quickly and responsibly.

Roosen also hopes to increase awareness among the medical community that the state lab will test free of charge if encephalitis is suspected.