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Tick, mosquito and flea borne illness cases triple in 15 years

They are an unfortunate part of summer – crawling, biting, flying, irritating hordes – and because of weather patterns, we may be seeing more of them.

"Winter kind of lasted until the middle of April for much of Wisconsin," Gundersen Infection Preventionist Megan Meller said. "That’s a perfect condition for some of these insects like ticks and mosquitoes."

The CDC says illnesses from ticks, mosquitoes and fleas have tripled since 2004, with tick-borne illnesses accounting for 60 percent of all those cases. Wisconsin and Minnesota are in the top 20 percent of reported cases.

"There’s other types of Lyme disease that are out there," Meller said. "So it’s really best that we just be prepared for that."

It takes more than 24 hours for a tick to transmit disease. Thorough body checks after a day in the woods or tall grass is key to prevention.

For mosquitoes, prevention goes beyond just a repellent spray. The West Nile virus, dengue fever and Zika were most common across the US, although Zika never made it to the La Crosse area. La Crosse has it’s own vector-borne illness – La Crosse Encephalitis – discovered in 1963.

"When we’re talking about mosquitoes, we really need folks to pay attention to anything that might collect water," La Crosse County Health Director Jen Rombalski said.

Standing water left for even just three days is long enough for mosquito larvae to hatch and grow to adulthood.

"We need [residents] to be dumping those water containers out, drilling a hole in something if it’s possible, so that water doesn’t collect in there," Rombalski said. "That will really help reduce mosquito populations."

Vector control in La Crosse looks in particular for two types of mosquitoes. The lighter colored “culex” is known to carry the West Nile virus, while the darker "triseriatus" can carry La Crosse encephalitis.

"We’re actually out in the community looking for those sites and trying to treat [them] so that we are minimizing the risk of those diseases," Rombalski said.

But, it’s an uphill battle. One area the CDC identified for the majority of vector control programs in the US was a lack of pesticide resistance training. Pesticide resistance refers to species developing a resistance to chemicals meant to control their population, reducing the overall effectiveness. 86 percent of vector control programs did not conduct any pesticide resistance training.

County health recommends to wear light colored clothing – long sleeve t-shirts and pants whenever possible – if you are out in the woods. Use of an EPA registered insect repellent can help with mosquitoes along with treating outer wear with permethrin.


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