Health officials urge precautions
With mild weather arriving, tick numbers are increasing and mosquitos will be breeding. Both will be looking for warm-blooded hosts to bite. Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, babesiosis and other tick-borne illnesses, along with a growing group of mosquito-carried diseases — West Nile, chikungunya and Zika virus — are looming possibilities, however remote they may be.
“With our relatively mild winter, we are already seeing more ticks this season,” said Dr. Michael Nesheiwat, interim commissioner of health for Putnam County.
Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne illness in this area, but not the only one, he noted. Cases of babesiosis, anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis and powassan virus have been on the rise over the past few years. In the spring, when the population of nymph ticks increases, it is important to take precautions because their tiny size makes them more difficult to spot.
West Nile Virus has been the biggest mosquito-borne concern, but no cases have been confirmed in the county since 2011, and only three cases of chikungunya have occurred, all since 2014.
Preventing bites should be a top defense. Shoes, socks, long pants and long-sleeved shirts should be worn whenever possible. Insect repellent containing DEET should also be used as well, paying close attention to the directions provided by the manufacturer. Children should not apply this product themselves.
Putnam residents are advised to remove all standing water. Rain storms often result in pooling water. Anything in the yard that collects water can become a breeding site for mosquitos if left for more than four days. Some mosquitoes, including the A. Albopictus, even prefer small items like a bottle cap full of water, in which to breed. Only one lone specimen of A. Albopictus has ever been found in Putnam, and while it has been shown to be capable of carrying the Zika virus in a lab, it has not yet been seen as a reliable carrier in the real world.
“Checking your yard now and after every rainfall is crucial,” says Robert Morris, the county’s director of environmental health. “Anything that traps water — old tires, rain gutters, cups or cans, even leaves and tree holes — may provide a breeding spot. Drill holes in tires or dispose of them properly; clean gutters, and overturn all containers, however small.”
Contrary to popular belief, smaller pools of water are more productive for mosquito breeding than larger bodies of water, which have natural mosquito predators such as fish and dragonflies. The health department continues to apply larvicide to targeted road catch basins. This season mosquito tracking by the county and state departments of health will be increased as well.