Bug bites aren’t just annoying; they can also make you sick!

May 29, 2024
Dr. Kathryn Turner, Division of Public Health

Spring weather is upon us and before long we’ll have even warmer temperatures, and you may be wanting to have fun outside in your backyard or in Idaho deserts, rivers, or mountain trails.  

It is also the time to be aware of the potential for illness caused by ticks or mosquitos. Bug bites can be problematic and threatening to both you and your pets. But with proper awareness, precautions, and treatment when needed, these illnesses shouldn’t discourage you from enjoying the Idaho outdoors.  

West Nile virus

Mosquitoes transmit the West Nile virus (WNV). Most people infected with WNV will not have any symptoms, but about 20 percent will develop illness that can be mild to severe. Mild illness includes fever, headache, body aches, vomiting, diarrhea, or rash. Severe illness can occur in 1% of cases when infection leads to inflammation of the brain (encephalitis) or brain membrane (meningitis), especially those older than 50 and those who have underlying medical conditions or weakened immune systems.

There is no specific treatment for West Nile virus, but hospitalization and treatment of symptoms may improve the chances of recovery for those with severe illness. There is no vaccine for humans, but there is a vaccine for horses, which can become seriously ill if infected.

Tickborne diseases

Some ticks carry germs that cause human disease. For most tickborne diseases, the symptoms are not specific, and people can experience fever, headache and muscle aches, or fatigue. Some infections, such as Lyme disease, can lead to distinctive rashes or sores depending on the illness.

If a tick is biting you, use clean, fine-tipped tweezers or notched tick extractor to remove it as close to the skin as possible without squeezing or crushing the tick. Clean the bite site and your hands with soap and water or rubbing alcohol. 

For tick bites, see your medical provider immediately if you have symptoms mentioned above. Early recognition and treatment of these infections reduces the risk of complications.

What are the best ways to prevent bites from ticks and mosquitoes?

The best way to protect yourself from germs spread by mosquitoes and ticks is to prevent being bitten.
•    For both mosquitoes and ticks, use insect repellent approved by the EPA on exposed skin and clothing. Follow instructions on the product label, especially if you’re applying it to children. 
•    Avoid mosquito bites by staying indoors or wearing long pants and long-sleeved shirts if you’re outside. Tucking in your shirts and pants into socks prevents ticks from accessing your skin.
•    Remove standing water sources around your home where mosquitoes can lay eggs. 
•    Avoid ticks by staying out of tall grass, brush, or heavily wooded areas and walking in the center of hiking trails.
•    Ticks will be more visible if you wear light-colored clothing. Check for and remove ticks from your clothing, body, hair, and pets when you have been outside.
•    Talk to your veterinarian about tick prevention products for your pets. Ticks can attach to your pet and end up in your home.

Other infectious diseases can be carried by mosquitoes, ticks, and other insects and transmitted to humans through their bites. Although public health officials are most concerned about West Nile virus, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, tick-borne relapsing fever, and tularemia in Idaho, Lyme disease is another concern. Lyme disease cases in Idaho are rare and mostly occur in people who traveled to other areas of the country where infected ticks are common. It’s important to “fight the bite” by being knowledgeable and prepared to prevent insect bites, and knowing what to do if you are bitten!


CDC information on tick borne illness: https://www.cdc.gov/ticks/about/index.html

West Nile virus information: https://healthandwelfare.idaho.gov/health-wellness/diseases-conditions/west-nile-virus

Dr. Kathryn Turner is deputy state epidemiologist in the Division of Public Health.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is dedicated to strengthening the health, safety, and independence of Idahoans. Learn more at healthandwelfare.idaho.gov.

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