Reducing risks of vector-borne diseases

With tick- and mosquito-borne diseases becoming more prevalent in Indiana, Bryan Price, Indiana State Department of Health senior vector-borne epidemiologist, presented ideas on how to reduce your risk of getting infected during “Fight the Bite.” This program was presented at the Batesville Memorial Public Library and sponsored by the Ripley County Health Department, Margaret Mary Health, ISDH and the library.

“Birds, like blue jays, crows and raptors, are highly susceptible to the West Nile virus …. If you see those types of birds dying, that could be an indicator of the disease.

“The main mosquito that spreads this disease is the northern house mosquito …. the disease overwinters in adult females and re-infects the bird population each year,” he revealed.

The insects “come to the surface of the water to breed. They can breed in a quarter of an inch of water. It doesn’t take much. They like to breed in stagnant water or places with septic failure. That’s why it’s important to check around your property for problems. One of the biggest issues is clogged rain gutters, where water is not flowing out and leaves are decaying there. It’s a great place to breed.”

The ISDH entomology director stressed, “When we really worry are when we have periods of drought. This leads to more stagnant water. The rain keeps things washed out.

“What we do have with periods of flooding are more nuisance biting mosquitoes, but they are nowhere near the disease threat that these other mosquitoes are.”

He also revealed other ways persons can protect themselves from WNV and La Crosse encephalitis, another mosquito-borne disease:

• Apply insect repellent containing Deet, picaridin, IR-3535 or oil of lemon eucalyptus to clothes and exposed skin;

• Install or repair screens on windows and doors to keep mosquitoes out of the home;

• Avoid times and places where mosquitoes are biting;

• Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants to reduce the amount of exposed skin;

• Stay in places with air conditioning or that use window and door screens to keep mosquitoes outside;

• Sleep under a mosquito bed net if air-conditioned or screened rooms are not available or if sleeping outdoors; and

• Treat clothing and gear with permethrin or buy permethrin-treated items – Do not use these products directly on skin. They are intended to treat clothing.

To cut down on mosquito populations, Price recommended:

• Eliminating areas where water can pool, flush out bird baths, pet dishes and kiddie pools once a week;

• Empty any containers holding water, properly dispose of used tires, repair failed septic systems and keep grass and shrubbery trimmed;

• Support the community’s vector control program, which may include spraying to kill adult mosquitoes under certain circumstances or treating standing water to kill mosquito larvae.

Preventing tick-borne diseases

The epidemiologist expressed the importance of avoiding tick habitats:

• Adult ticks prefer tall grass, low brush or shrubs where they can come in contact with a mammal for their next blood meal;

• Larval and nymphal ticks prefer shady, moist ground litter, stone walls, wood piles, etc., where they contact small rodents, mammals or sitting humans for a blood meal;

• Ticks detect potential blood meals by movement, body heat and carbon dioxide exhaled. “They will crawl out to the edge of the vegetation, put their front legs out … (and) will latch on to you.” He emphasized, “We’re a big target because we give off a lot of heat and carbon dioxide.”

When in the woods or places where the creatures may be, “wear shoes, socks, long pants and long shirts. Pants should be stuffed into socks. Wear light-colored clothing to see ticks crawling. Hats help deter ticks from hiding in hair.”

In addition, “use insect repellents with Deet and cover your skin and clothing with it. Apply permethrin to clothing because unlike Deet … (it) kills or stuns insects that touch treated fabric.

“Conduct body checks for ticks at the end of the day …. When you come in, look over yourself, and have somebody else check you out. Also, take off your clothes and put them in the dryer for a half hour. This will kill ticks.”

Environmental measures can be taken to reduce the external parasite’s population:

• Keep grass mowed and remove tall weeds. “Anything you can do to keep your yard neat will keep them farther away from where you recreate”;

• Remove underbrush and leaf litter in woody and shady areas;

• Remove harborages where rodents and other prime blood meals can live; and

• Treat pets to prevent attachment, which can bring ticks into the home.

“The transmission of tick-borne diseases may require hours or days of feeding time, so prompt tick removal greatly reduces the chance of disease transmission.”

Price explained the proper way to remove ticks: “Carefully remove the tick with tweezers. Grab it as closely to the skin as possible. Pull straight back, using steady, gentle force. Then wash and disinfect the bite site. Save the tick in a vial of alcohol for future identification. If you become ill, identifying the tick might provide a clue as to the nature of the illness.”

He stressed, “Please do not use a burnt cigarette, nail polish, olive oil or essential oil to get the tick loose. This causes it to become agitated, and it will inject bacteria into your body.”

“Mosquitoes and ticks are vectors of disease, so take precautions every time you do outdoor activities anywhere in the state …. If you identify something in your neighbor’s yard that could be a potential breeding ground, let them know.”

Diane Raver can be contacted at or 812-934-4343, Ext. 114.

Second in a three-part series

Part 1: Vector-borne diseases and symptoms, Oct. 6

Part 3: Personal stories of those affected, Oct. 13

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