With warm weather and recent rains, biting bugs are out to make a meal of us and our pets.
Mosquitoes and ticks can transmit diseases to the victims they bite, but we can take action to keep them from diminishing our enjoyment of outdoor activities.
Mosquitoes need two things to reproduce: stagnant water and blood. Protein from the blood meal fuels development of the female mosquito’s eggs, and the algae or other matter growing in the standing water becomes the food source for the larvae after those 150-200 eggs hatch.
Mosquitoes may be active anytime the temperature rises above 50 degrees, and they’re especially active after rainfall. Georgia’s 63 different species include daylight feeders and dawn/dusk feeders that seek blood in early morning and evening hours.
When they bite, mosquitoes inject saliva into the wound. This saliva contains something that keeps blood from coagulating, but it’s also how mosquitoes can infect us with West Nile and other viruses. Mosquitoes also spread Eastern equine encephalitis, which is 90-95 percent fatal to horses and more than 50 percent fatal to humans; and they’re an intermediate host for heartworms and the vector through which pets become infected with the parasite.
How to avoid mosquito bites:
• Eliminate standing water where mosquitoes lay eggs.
• Clean leaf litter out of gutters;
• Keep fresh, clean water in bird baths;
• Tip overflow water out of planter bases;
• After rainfall, empty water from nooks in lawn furniture, yard art, children’s toys, rain gauges, and other places where it can collect.
• If you have a pond, add fish to eat mosquito larvae, and remove weeds where larvae can hide; or, use dunks or granules containing Bti (Bacillus thuringiensis subspecies israelensis), refreshing them as necessary. These bacteria affects mosquito larvae specifically, without harming fish, wildlife or beneficial insects.
• Encourage bats. Georgia bats are insectivores capable of eating thousands of mosquitoes each night.
• Make sure screens on windows and doors are intact to keep mosquitoes out of the house.
• When venturing outdoors, cover up as much skin as possible.
• Spray exposed skin with EPA-approved insect repellent containing the active ingredients DEET, picaridin, or IR 3535.
• Protect your dogs with preventive heartworm medication.
• See a doctor immediately if flu-like symptoms occur after a mosquito bite.
Like mosquitoes, female ticks lay eggs after taking a blood meal. Ticks crawl along the ground looking for their victims, and they, too, carry diseases which they may transmit to humans as they feed.
In Georgia, the most common people-feeding ticks are Lone Star ticks (Amblyomma americanum), identifiable by the single white dot on the back of females. American dog ticks (Dermacentor variabilis) are the second most common tick. Black-legged ticks (Ixodes scapularis) are usually active only during winter in Georgia.
An issue on the rise that’s associated with Lone Star tick bites is an acquired allergy to red meat. A sugar molecule transmitted during feeding can trigger a delayed-reaction allergic response in people sensitive to the sugar. Symptoms ranging from itchy hives to anaphylaxis occur several hours after eating red meat.
Fortunately, removing ticks within 24 hours of attachment significantly reduces the chance of contracting a disease. Remove ticks by grasping them with tweezers and pulling straight out.
How to avoid tick bites:
• When venturing into forested or grassy areas where ticks live, wear long pants, long sleeves, and a hat to minimize exposed skin.
• Tuck pants into socks and shirts into pants to keep ticks from exploiting openings as they crawl up clothing.
• A CDC study found that clothing treated with permethrin is effective protection against tick bites. The insecticide stays active in clothing even after a few washes.
• Apply insect repellent containing DEET to exposed skin.
• Control ticks on pets.
• Immediately after spending time outdoors, check for ticks and remove them promptly.
• See a doctor immediately of rash or flu-like symptoms occur after a tick bite.
Heather N. Kolich is the Agriculture and Natural Resources agent for the UGA Extension Forsyth County.