FRANKFORT – Grayson Brown serves up breakfast to mosquitoes each morning in the Public Health Entomology Laboratory at the University of Kentucky.
As he clicks through his emails using one arm, the mosquitoes dine on Brown’s other arm. He’s been doing it for so long the bites don’t bother him.
“We’re ramping up production for doing mosquito tests this summer,” said Brown, the lab’s director and a longtime faculty member in the university’s Department of Entomology. “Pretty soon, I’ll have one arm in one cage and I’ll be barefooted with my feet in two other cages.”
It’s one thing to feed mosquitoes for research purposes. It’s quite another to become the buffet when fishing, hunting, hiking, camping, bird watching or just spending time outdoors.
After a wet spring and a soggy start to the summer across parts of Kentucky, outdoors enthusiasts should expect to encounter more mosquitoes, ticks and chiggers. That won’t necessarily translate into an increased disease risk, Brown said, but it could ruin an outing for the unprepared.
A good bug-fighting strategy includes multiple lines of defense.
“You fight chiggers and ticks the same way you fight mosquitoes,” Brown said.
Wear long sleeves, long pants and socks whenever possible to minimize the amount of exposed skin. Tuck pants legs into socks or boots and tuck in your shirt for added protection.
Chiggers are mites in the larvae stage and they target areas where clothing is tight on the skin such as the tops of socks or elastic waistbands. The digestive enzymes these mites use to liquefy skin cells cause intense itching and red welts that may linger for weeks.
Spraying repellent on exposed skin and clothing is another defense tactic against chiggers, ticks and mosquitoes.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency provides a search tool on its website at www.epa.gov to help users choose skin-applied insect repellents. Enter the term “Insect Repellent” in the search box on the agency’s homepage for a link to the tool. It takes into account how much time the user thinks they’ll need protection from biting insects, if protection is needed from mosquitoes, ticks or both. Users also can narrow the results by product or company name and active ingredient.
Brown recommends products that contain no more than 33 percent DEET. Other repellents proven to be effective include Picaridin, IR3535 and Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus. Always read the product labels and follow the directions for use, especially before applying any repellent on a child.
After contracting a tick-borne illness not long ago, Chad Miles is vigilant about treating his clothes and boots with permethrin, an insecticide that repels and kills ticks, mosquitoes and other pests. Allow any Permethrin-treated articles to dry before putting them on. One treatment can last several washings.
“You’re never going to keep them off of you 100 percent but there are products that can deter them,” said Miles, an avid hunter and angler who is the executive director of the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Foundation.
“When you get out of the woods, do the smart thing and get those clothes off of you. Spray down, wash down and check. If you can, get them off of you before they get attached.”
If you find a tick already attached, experts advise using tweezers to grab it as close to the skin’s surface as possible then pulling straight back with a steady motion, careful not to crush the tick.
Ticks are found in the woods, thick brush and tall grass. Chiggers thrive in overgrown or grassy areas, but also in damp vegetation with shade, around trees and in thickets. It can be difficult to avoid those when you’re out scouting fall hunting spots or approaching a stream or riverbank to fish. Whenever possible, stick to the center of any trails.
Mosquitoes are most active from dawn to dusk. A breeze is a good deterrent and a welcome relief from the summer heat and humidity.
“If you’re in an area where there are a lot of mosquitoes, they’ll just bump into you by random chances,” Brown said. “If they do, then they’ll feed on you whether you have repellent on or not.”
An elevated mosquito population this year should not be cause for alarm.
“People may get more mosquito bites but there will probably be less mosquito-borne disease because the mosquitoes that transmit the disease that people are mostly worried about are depressed,” Brown said. “Kentucky has recently been invaded by blacklegged ticks, which are the principal vector for Lyme disease. There are more ticks out there this year but the risk is relatively low. The number of Lyme disease cases had gone up in recent years but we’re at the tail-end of that.”
Summer is prime time for mosquitoes, ticks and chiggers but you don’t have to let them bug you into staying indoors.
Author Kevin Kelly is a staff writer for Kentucky Afield magazine, the official publication of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. Get the latest from Kelly and the entire Kentucky Afield staff by following them on Twitter: @kyafield.