PROVIDENCE – With the start of summer today, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) and the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) are urging residents to guard against mosquito and tick bites when enjoying the outdoors. In May, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a report stating that the number of cases of diseases that are transmitted by ticks, mosquitoes, and other insects more than tripled nationally between 2004 and 2016 (27,388 cases in 2004, versus 96,075 in 2016).
Personal protection is the first line of defense against mosquitoes that may carry West Nile Virus (WNV), Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE), or other diseases – and the most effective way to avoid infection. With WNV and EEE established throughout the state, DEM and RIDOH remind the public to eliminate mosquito breeding grounds and prevent being bitten, whenever possible. The following precautions are advised:
• Remove anything around your house and yard that collects water; just one cup of water can produce hundreds of mosquitoes. • Clean gutters and downspouts to ensure proper drainage, and repair holes in window screens. • Remove any water from unused swimming pools, wading pools, boats, planters, trash and recycling bins, tires, and anything else that collects water, and cover them. • Change the water in birdbaths at least two times a week, and rinse out birdbaths once a week. • Use EPA-approved bug spray with one of the following active ingredients: DEET (20-30% strength), picaridin, IR3535, and oil of lemon eucalyptus or para-menthane-diol. • Minimize outdoor activity at dawn and at dusk when mosquitoes are most active. • Put insect netting over strollers and playpens. • Wear long sleeves and long pants whenever possible, particularly if you are outdoors during dawn and dusk.
Horses are particularly susceptible to WNV and EEE. Horse owners are advised to vaccinate their animals early in the season and practice the following:
• Remove or cover areas where standing water can collect. • Avoid putting animals outside at dawn, dusk, or during the night when mosquitoes are most active. • Insect-proof facilities where possible and use approved repellants frequently. • Monitor animals for symptoms of fever and/or neurological signs (such as stumbling, moodiness, loss of appetite) and report all suspicious cases to a veterinarian immediately. If you are unsure if your horse is properly vaccinated you should consult with your veterinarian.
Visit health.ri.gov/mosquito for additional mosquito prevention tips, videos, and local data. DEM and RIDOH also remind Rhode Islanders to take precautions to avoid mosquito bites when traveling to Zika-affected countries. Pregnant women and women who are considering becoming pregnant should not travel to countries with active transmission of Zika.
"Part of DEM's core mission is encouraging people to get outside and enjoy Rhode Island's magnificent parks, beaches, and recreational opportunities, but we realize that this comes with the risk of exposure to mosquitoes, ticks, and other biting insects," said DEM Director Janet Coit. "Fortunately, there are many common-sense ways that Rhode Islanders can protect themselves by preventing bites. With our colleagues at the Department of Health, we're glad to offer these tips to have a safe summer."
"When it comes to mosquito- and tick-borne illnesses, prevention is the best way to keep yourself and your family healthy and safe when out enjoying Rhode Island's parks, forests, and other fabulous outdoor spaces in the coming months," said Director of Health Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH. "Prevention means protecting yourself from mosquito bites, getting rid of mosquito breeding grounds, reducing exposure to ticks, checking your body for ticks, and removing ticks whenever they are found."
Between 2016 and 2017, Rhode Island saw a 22% increase in the number of cases of Lyme disease reported by healthcare providers to RIDOH (927 cases in 2016, versus 1,132 cases in 2017). Rhode Island has the fourth-highest rate of Lyme disease in the nation.
Lyme disease is caused by bacteria that spread through the bite of an infected tick. Symptoms of new onset Lyme disease can include a 'bullseye" rash anywhere on the skin, facial or Bell's palsy (loss of muscle tone on one or both sides of the face), severe headaches and neck stiffness due to meningitis (inflammation of the spinal cord), pain and swelling in the large joints (such as knees), shooting pains that may interfere with sleep, and heart palpitations and dizziness due to changes in heartbeat. Anyone with symptoms of Lyme disease should contact their healthcare provider. Other tick-borne diseases in Rhode Island include anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis, babesiosis, and (rarely) Powassan.
Tick populations are increasing in nearly every area of the state. All Rhode Islanders should take steps to repel, check for, and remove ticks by taking the following steps:
• Repel: Wear long pants and long-sleeve shirts when outdoors. Wear light-colored clothing. Tuck pants into socks so that ticks do not crawl under clothing. • Consider wearing tick-repellant clothing treated with permethrin when going outside in tick habitat and treating your yard with tick-killing insecticides. • Use EPA-approved bug spray with one of the following active ingredients: DEET (20-30% strength), picaridin, IR3535, and oil of lemon eucalyptus or para-menthane-diol. • Check yourself and your family daily for ticks, especially if you spend a lot of time outside in grassy or wooded areas. Don't forget to check your pets, too, and use products that rapidly kill or repel ticks on pets. Deer ticks, the kind that carry Lyme disease, are often small (poppy seed-sized) in their nymphal (immature) stage. • Remove: If you find a tick, properly remove it with tweezers. Tick removal within 24 hours of attachment can prevent Lyme transmission.
For more information about ticks, how to avoid being bitten, and how to remove a tick, visit the University of Rhode Island's TickEncounter Resource Center at www.tickencounter.org. RIDOH's Tick Free Rhode Island media campaign includes ads on television, radio, and social media, features three new animated Tick Free Rhode Island videos (available in English and Spanish). The videos show how to repel both ticks and mosquitoes, how to check for ticks, and how to properly remove a tick from the skin. To view the videos and get more information on Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases visit www.health.ri.gov/ticks.
For more information about DEM divisions and programs, visit www.dem.ri.gov. Follow us on Twitter (@RhodeIslandDEM) and/or Facebook at www.facebook.com/RhodeIslandDEM for timely updates.