Protect yourself from creepy-crawlies

Published 9:42 pm Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Experts are warning everybody with outdoor plans this summer to watch out for disease-ridden bug bites.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in May that insect-borne illnesses from mosquitoes, fleas and ticks have tripled across the United States, with more than 640,000 reported cases from 2004 to 2016. Ticks were the worst of the bunch, as they accounted for more than 60 percent of all reported cases.

Virginia was also in the top 20 percent among states for tick cases from 2004 to 2016, with more than 12,856 incidents.

Email newsletter signup

“We’ve definitely seen an increase in insect-related visits, especially tick bites,” Dr. Tim Mynes, area medical director for MedExpress, said in a phone interview. “I don’t have corporate numbers, but we’ve definitely had at least a 10-percent increase compared to last year.”

According to, Hampton Roads has the misfortune of hosting several different tick species, including American and brown dog, deer, gulf coast and lone star varieties. Lyme disease is the biggest concern, but there’s also Ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and other diseases.

Ticks lay their eggs in the spring, which then hatch and go through larva stages throughout winter before maturing further in the summer. But warming temperatures overall have led to an increase in cases, according to Brandon Jutras, a Lyme disease researcher in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech.

“Ticks not readily killed due to warmer winters,” Jutras wrote in a Virginia Tech news article. Ticks “are coming out earlier in the season and spreading to more northern areas. Another factor likely playing a role in the increase is public and physician awareness.”

People are becoming more aware of the dangers but still frequently make mistakes when it comes to recognizing when they need treatment, according to Cindee Hawkins, a physician assistant at Bon Secours Western Branch Primary Care.

A bull’s-eye rash develops in the majority of cases where a person is bitten by a tick infected with Lyme disease, but not always. There could also be joint pain, fever or simply swelling like a spider bite.

“They’re very small, like the size of a pinpoint,” Hawkins said. “(Patients) may never see the tick. They’ll just see the rash.”

Another common mistake is how people remove ticks from themselves. It generally takes at least 24 hours for a tick infected with Lyme disease to pass the disease to a host human, Hawkins said, and they prefer spots where two areas of skin touch or rub together, such as armpits and the back of the neck.

But squeezing on the tick’s body when removing it could ramp up the speed of infection dramatically.

“They could squeeze the contents of the tick into the open wound,” she said.

The best method is to take a pair of tweezers and press as close as possible to the skin before twisting off the tick, then cleaning the bite with soap and water. The tick should either be photographed with a smartphone or kept in an alcohol-filled container for later identification.

People can treat their clothing with permethrin and other repellents recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency like DEET, and dogs should be wearing canine-friendly repellents as well.

Brighter colors of clothes can also help when checking yourself for ticks after spending time outdoors, but keep in mind that ticks aren’t just hiding deep in the woods. They prefer moisture and humidity in tall grass, bushes and trees that could be beside office workplaces or in household backyards.

“Lyme disease was typically a problem in northern and western parts of the state, but now we’re seeing it out in people’s backyards,” Hawkins said.