This summer, the outdoors are buzzing, and learning how to protect you and your kids from mosquito and tick bites can make your time hiking and camping in Northern Michigan more enjoyable. We checked in with a medical entomologist from the Michigan Department of Community Health, Erik Foster, and Jan Swift-Godzisz, manager of infection prevention at Munson Medical Center, who shared everything you need to know about tick and mosquito bite prevention.

How do you identify a tick? And when are we most prone to get a tick?

Erik: Ticks are recognizable first by their size, about the size of an apple seed is as large as the adult tick gets. Nymphal ticks—prevalent in July—are about the size of a poppy seed. They have 8 legs, no wings, and range in color from red to black to brown—sometimes with white colorations on their backs. People are most prone to encounter ticks in brushy, grassy habitats, or in the woods. They often congregate along the edge of trails where they wait with their legs out in order to grab a passing host.

When somebody notices a tick on them, what’s the best way to remove the tick?

Erik: We recommend checking yourself and your children for ticks regularly when you’re in areas where ticks are common. The best way to remove a tick is with fine-tipped tweezers. Grip the tick as close to the skin as possible, and slowly pull straight out. It’s important to get ticks off the body as quickly as possible. The worst way to remove a tick is with a lighter or matches. Often times, people end up with a dead tick on them, that they still have to remove, or they burn themselves. Once a tick has been removed, save it in a sealed container or bag, and clean the bite area with soap and water. Showering after coming in is also a good idea.

Say somebody has a tick, removes it, but still has a reason for concern … when should they talk with a doctor?

Erik: It may be appropriate to seek medical care if a tick has been attached for more than 48 hours, especially in areas of the state where the black-legged (deer) tick is common and Lyme disease is endemic

National treatment guidelines, from Clinical Practice Guidelines by the Infectious Diseases Society of America, indicate that a single dose of antibiotics can be effective at preventing Lyme disease if the tick is removed and care is sought immediately. Ticks can be submitted to the State of Michigan for identification and potential testing by following these directions.

Are there ways to repel ticks? Are there any alternative ways or home remedies worth trying? 

Jan: Use a repellent that contains 20% or more DEET for protection that lasts up to several hours. Products containing DEET include Off!, Cutter, Sawyer, and Ultrathon.

Erik: To repel ticks…

  1. Wear a skin repellent containing DEET.
  2. Treat clothing with Permethrin clothing repellents including socks and shoes. There are clothing lines available at camping and outdoor stores that have already been treated, or you can purchase Permethrin spray to treat your own clothes. These products are only for treating clothing but are very effective. The US Military uses these products on soldiers’ uniforms to prevent bites from ticks and other blood-feeding arthropods. I haven’t seen any convincing scientific evidence pointing to home remedies being effective.
  3. An alternative way to keep ticks off of your skin is to wear long pants tucked into socks, and a long-sleeved shirt when in the woods. Clothing can provide a barrier to ticks and help you to spot them before they attach.
Some bug bites are worse than others. Are there symptoms to watch out for when a bug bite seems abnormal?

Jan: Many tick-borne illnesses have similar signs and symptoms. If you have been bitten by a tick and develop any of the symptoms below within a few weeks, a health care provider should evaluate you before deciding on a course of treatment:

  • Fever/chills: Patients can experience a fever at varying degrees and time of onset.
  • Aches and pains: Headache, fatigue, muscle aches, and joint pain may occur.
  • Rash: Lyme disease, can result in a distinctive rash: The rash may appear within 3-30 days, typically before the onset of fever. The rash is the first sign of infection and is usually a circular rash. This rash occurs in approximately 70-80% of infected persons and begins at the site of a tick bite. It may be warm but is not usually painful. This rash often described as an expanding “bulls-eye” develops around the site of the tick bite.

Tickborne diseases can result in mild symptoms treatable at home to severe infections requiring hospitalization.

Erik: Different people react differently to bug bites, that is definitely true!  When we get bug bites, our bodies react to the saliva from the arthropod with a histamine reaction. Most of the time, cleaning the area and applying an antihistamine cream will help reduce the itching and swelling. Be concerned if the bite area continues to be painful, increases in size, and develops an expanding rash or becomes infected. Some people are very sensitive to bites and stings, and if a person begins to have a more systemic reaction such as difficulty breathing, throat constriction, fever, or other dramatic symptoms, it’s a good idea to have an epi-injector on hand, and to seek medical care promptly.

How do you keep mosquitos and ticks away?

Jan: For mosquito protection, DEETExternal, Picaridin, Oil of lemon eucalyptus, Off! Botanicals, IR3535, Skin So Soft Bug Guard, and SkinSmart, are all recommended repellents. Always follow product directions when applying repellent, and reapply as directed. If you are also using sunscreen, apply sunscreen first and insect repellent second.

Erik: Much like ticks, DEET and clothing treated with Permethrin can help people enjoy the outdoors when mosquitoes and black flies are bad.  Around the home, draining any standing water will help to reduce breeding habitat for mosquitoes.  Also, placing some fans on the deck or porch directed outward toward the yard can keep mosquitoes from being able to fly close enough to bite.

More Northern Michigan Outdoors