Mosquitoes, ticks and fleas, oh my!
During the summer it seems like there are all kinds of bugs that we must cope with. While trying to avoid these pesky creatures, we need to remember that some of these bugs carry viruses, bacteria, and toxins that can cause illness and even death in people, from diseases such as West Nile Virus, Lyme disease, and plague. Protecting ourselves and loved ones from bug-bites will continue to remain important because, even though we rarely see cases of these diseases in Monterey County, we know from studies and the few cases we do get that the bugs here can carry disease and of course the bites are aggravating.
Almost all of us have had the unpleasant experience of being bitten by a mosquito. Mosquito bites can cause severe skin irritation through an allergic reaction to the mosquito's saliva - that is what causes the familiar red bump and itching. Of course a more serious result of some mosquito bites may be transmission of a few serious diseases such as malaria, and West Nile virus. For animal owners it is also important to remember that not only can mosquitoes carry diseases, which cause problems in humans, but they also can spread several diseases and parasites that dogs and horses are very vulnerable to. These include dog heartworms and eastern equine encephalitis and West Nile Virus.
About 200 different species of mosquitoes make the United States their home, all of which live in specific environments, display unique behaviors and bite different types of animals. Despite these differences, all mosquitoes share some common qualities, such as a four-stage life cycle. After the female mosquito obtains a blood meal (male mosquitoes do not bite), she lays her eggs directly on the surface of stagnant water, in a depression, or on the edge of a container where rainwater may collect and flood the eggs. The eggs hatch and a mosquito larva or "wriggler" emerges. The larva lives in the water, feeds and develops into the third stage of the life cycle called a pupa or "tumbler". The pupa also lives in the water, but no longer feeds. Finally, the mosquito emerges from the pupal case and the water as a fully developed adult, ready to bite.
Protect you and your family against mosquito bites:
- When you are outdoors, use insect repellent containing DEET Follow the directions on the package.
- Many mosquitoes are most active at dusk and dawn. Be sure to use insect repellent and wear long sleeves and pants at these times or consider staying indoors during these hours.
- Make sure you have good screens on your windows and doors to keep mosquitoes out.
- Get rid of mosquito breeding sites by emptying standing water from flower pots, buckets and barrels. Change the water in pet dishes and replace the water in bird baths weekly. Drill holes in tire swings so water drains out. Keep children's wading pools empty and on their sides when they aren't being used.
If you spend time outdoors or have pets that go outdoors, you need to beware of ticks. Ticks are small bloodsucking bugs. Like mosquitoes, many species transmit diseases to animals and humans. Some of the diseases ticks spread are Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia.
Some ticks are so small that they can be difficult to see. Ticks may get on you if you walk through areas where they live, such as tall grass, leaf litter or shrubs.
If you are in a tick prone area, to help protect yourself and your family, you should:
- Use a chemical repellent with DEET, pyrethrum or picaridin
- Avoid tick-infested areas
- Wear light-colored protective clothing
- Tuck pant legs into socks
- Check yourself, your children and your pets for ticks and carefully remove any ticks you find
Fleas are bloodsuckers found the world over. They infest birds and mammals, including man, and are especially fond of rodents. Because fleas can transmit diseases through their bites and exist in large numbers almost everywhere, they are health concern.
The bodies of fleas are shaped for their lifestyle. They are small, wingless and flat from side to side. Adult fleas vary in size from 1/25 to 1/4 inch and are black to brownish-black in color. Their legs are long for jumping. They can jump up to 8 inches vertically and 15 inches horizontally. The flea’s hard, smooth body is covered with backward pointing bristles and spines that help the flea to move through hairs or feathers. Fleas are easily disturbed while feeding and will run quickly or jump away to escape.
Flea bites are extremely annoying. The bites are usually not felt immediately, but become sore and more irritating afterward, depending on the sensitivity of the person or animal. Fleas usually bite people on the legs and ankles; often two or three bites in a row. Dogs and cats will scratch constantly when infested. Their coats become dirty and rough; their skin becomes irritated. The best way to avoid flea bites on you and your pets is to make sure your pets are protected from fleas.
Buying and Applying Flea and Tick Products on your Pets
- If you decide to, and before you, use the product on your pet, carefully read and before applying any pesticide product, be sure to read all direction and follow them exactly.
- Be sure you are choosing the correct product for your specific pet and for the particular pest problem. Certain products are approved only for dogs and not for cats.
- Observe any age and/or size restrictions and any reapplication intervals identified. If you have questions, contact the manufacturer or your veterinarian before applying.
- Do not use any pesticide product on debilitated, aged, medicated, sick, pregnant, or nursing pets, or on pets known to be sensitive to pesticide products without first reading the label to see if there are warnings about use on these sensitive animals and consulting a veterinarian.
- Never separate or discard the package, which contains the label, from the product container (such as individual applicator tubes).
- Observe your pet after application for any sign of sensitivity.
- If signs of sensitivity occur, bathe your pet with mild soap, rinse with large amounts of water, and consult a veterinarian immediately.