The answer is ‘no,’ but you still want to avoid them
Somewhat cooler temperatures have resulted in a slow start to spring this year, but tick season –which typically begins with warmer spring weather and ends when temperatures drop in the fall – is officially upon us.
Tick season is not expected to be heavy this year, but Richard Ostfeld, a senior scientist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, N.Y., is concerned there could be an increase in Lyme cases because of the COVID-19 pandemic: as increasing numbers of homebound people are spending more time in local parks and in the woods.
“This is kind of a wild card,” Ostfeld says. “Cases could go skyrocketing if people are spending more time in dangerous places. The other thing I’m worried about is that people’s fears of seeing doctors and other health care providers may make them less likely to seek help when they are bitten by a tick or develop Lyme symptoms. If they get a case of Lyme disease, it’s not going away on its own and if it goes untreated it can develop into a difficult to treat chronic illness that can be debilitating.”
Unprecedented numbers of people are out on our hiking trails, seeking relief from quarantine with healthy outdoor activity. While Lyme disease and mosquito-borne West Nile Virus remain seasonal threats, one thing we don’t have to worry about, it appears, is getting infected with COVID-19 by a tick or mosquito.
TICKS AND MOSQUITOS CAN’T GIVE YOU COVID-19
Philip Armstrong, a virologist/medical entomologist with the Connecticut Department of Environmental Sciences at the Center for Vector Biology & Zoonotic Diseases, says the coronavirus can’t be transmitted by insects.
“There are no biting insects or ticks that can transmit COVID-19,” he said. “This is a respiratory virus that is discharged in saliva and mucus by sneezing, coughing, breathing or talking. It is not a blood-borne virus and therefore, it doesn’t get picked up by mosquitoes or ticks during blood feeding.
“The virus must also be able to replicate in the mosquito or tick before being transmitted. There are very select viruses that are adapted to this specialized mode of transmission and a respiratory virus like COVID-19 is not one of them.”
That doesn’t mean, however, that you should relax your normal vigilance when you’re out in the woods. Ticks didn’t suddenly become less dangerous because there is a global pandemic.
“Ticks and mosquitoes transmit a number of other pathogens that are of concern,” Armstrong said. “The bigger risk at this time of year (May-July) are the tick-borne diseases when the tiny deer tick nymphs are most active.
“These ticks transmit the agents of Lyme disease, babesiosis, anaplasmosis and Powassan encephalitis.
“Mosquito-borne diseases like West Nile virus and eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) virus occur later in the summer (July-September).”
PREVENT YOUR EXPOSURE TO TICKS AND MOSQUITOES
You don’t have to worry that a tick or mosquito bite will give you COVID-19, but the little buggers can infect you with plenty of other nasties, so it’s important to protect yourself. Armstrong offers the following tips:
- Cover-up! Wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts. Clothing material should be light-colored and tightly woven.
- Tuck pant legs into socks to prevent tick bites.
- Wear insecticide-treated clothing. This includes clothing treated with permethrin or picaridin, a distant cousin to black pepper. If you’re outdoors all the time – say, for work – you might need the more intense protection of permethrin. For a hike in the woods, you can try the picaridin.
- Use an EPA-approved insect repellent on exposed skin surface and apply according to directions. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) list of approved repellents can be found at www.epa.gov/insect-repellents.
- Perform frequent tick checks when outdoors and at home. No matter what, take a soapy shower and shampoo your hair when you get home, and do a thorough tick check.
DOING A TICK CHECK
Whenever you’ve been outside, you’ll want to do a full-body tick check as soon as you get in. Head for the largest mirror you’ve got and scan your body and clothes for teensy crawlers. Make sure to look under your arms and knees, around your ears and hairline, in your hair, inside your belly button, between your legs, and around your waist.
If you’ve been out for long or know you’ve been in a tick-friendly area, take a quick shower within two hours as well. This could help wash off any wanderers that you’d need a magnifying glass to see otherwise.
If you find a teensy bug on you, don’t panic — all you need to get a tick off is a pair of fine-tipped tweezers. In most cases, you’ll be fine. But if you develop an unusual rash or a fever, those are signs you need to call your doctor.