Massachusetts is a place of many wonders — great ice cream, swan boats powered by pedal-pushing humans, dazzling fall foliage, and town names pronounced in completely unpredictable ways — “Worcester is pronounced ‘Wooster?’ Woo-ster? Really?” (Yes, really.) But summer in Massachusetts also offers a few small, less-than-charming features. We’re referring, of course, to our much-less-beloved local ticks and mosquitos.
The bites of ticks, small arachnids that feed on the blood of birds, reptiles, and mammals, are capable of spreading several different diseases. The most common tick-borne illness in Massachusetts is Lyme disease, which often is characterized by bull’s-eye rash and/or flu-like symptoms. Other relatively common tick-borne diseases in New England are babesiosis, a malaria-like parasitic illness, and anaplasmosis, which causes flu-like symptoms but only rarely a rash. All three illnesses are transmitted by the tiny deer tick.
But tick-borne illnesses can be prevented. The CDC recommends using insect repellents that contain DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE), para-menthane-diol (PMD), or 2-undecanone. The EPA even provides a helpful search tool to assist you in finding the best product for your needs.
Once you get back from any outing, a full-body tick check should be the next activity on your schedule. Wearing light-colored clothing can also make it easier to spot ticks that hitched a ride home.
But what if you find a tick? Worse yet, what if it’s attached?
Don’t panic. Just follow the steps in this video to remove the tick safely. If you’re concerned that the tick may have been attached long enough to transmit an illness (12–24 hours for anaplasmosis; 36–48 hours for Lyme disease and babesiosis), get in touch with your primary care provider for advice on what to do next. In some cases, your healthcare provider may prescribe preventive antibiotics.
While most of the 51 mosquito species in Massachusetts do not transmit any human diseases, residents of the state must remain vigilant for two rare, but potentially serious, mosquito-borne viruses, eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) and West Nile virus (WNV). The risk period continues until the first hard frost — usually the end of October. In addition to using insect repellant, you can reduce the risk by wearing long-sleeved shirts, loose pants, and socks if you are going to be outdoors during the peak mosquito-biting times near dawn and dusk. More information on mosquito-borne illnesses is available from the Cambridge Public Health Department and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
MIT Medical offers testing for individuals with symptoms of tick- or mosquito-borne illnesses and treatment for those found to be infected. But don’t let fear keep you indoors! If you take reasonable precautions, there’s nothing to keep you from enjoying all the great outdoor activities that New England has to offer.