The Zika virus had many of us on edge last summer. Hamilton County doesn’t have any reports of Zika right now, but health officials say the best thing you can do is focus on prevention, whether that be from Zika or other insect-borne diseases.

Anne Cain and her three children enjoy taking advantage of the perfect weather to soak up some fresh air and sun outdoors. More opportunities to be outside also come with more bugs.

“One time after a hike, there was a tick in one of my guy’s ears. Not sure how? But I had some tweezers in the car and got it right out and we were good to go,” said Cain.

More than 600 cases

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is the most common disease reported in the area and is carried by ticks. There were more than 600 cases reported in the state of Tennessee in 2015 with 11 those cases in Hamilton County. Thirteen cases were reported in Hamilton County last year. 

Health officials say Cain followed their recommendations in caring for her boys.

“Checking after you’ve been in the woods, been on a hike, come home and make sure you check,” said Bev Fulbright, epidemiology manager for the Hamilton County Health Department. “If you come home and you do find a tick, it’s important that you do remove it correctly.”

Symptoms of an illness related to a tick bite can include fever and chills; aches, pains and fatigue, sometimes with joint pain; or a rash, sometimes in an unusual shape like a “bull’s eye,” spots that may appear elsewhere on the body, or an ulcer at the bite site. Rashes usually develop within hours or up to 30 days after the tick bite.

The best way to prevent tick-borne diseases is by using insect repellent and avoiding getting off trails and roads. More information on recognizing ticks and learning how to remove them is available on the CDC’s website.

Mosquitoes are another concern after the Zika virus spread to the United States last year, including 17 cases reported in Chattanooga from people who traveled to affected areas. It’s unclear if Zika will be a problem again this year, but Fulbright said health officials across the country are monitoring any new cases closely.

“There are people that travel to areas with Zika who come back with Zika, so we follow those people even though they didn’t acquire it locally,” said Fulbright.

The Zika virus is not currently established locally in Hamilton County, but health officials are concerned about people who contract the illness while traveling to an affected region and the risk it can pose to unborn babies and pregnant women. The virus has been linked to birth defects such as microcephaly and also brain damage, seizures, vision and hearing problems, and miscarriage. Zika also can be transmitted sexually. Infected men can transmit the virus through sexual fluids for up to six months and infected women can spread it for up to eight weeks. Zika also can cause Guillain-Barre Syndrome.

Despite concerns nationwide about Zika, the greatest mosquito-borne threat in Tennessee is West Nile virus, Fulbright said. Symptoms of the virus include fever, headache, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea, or rash.

The best thing you can do now to avoid insect-borne illnesses is to try to prevent mosquito bites by wearing repellent, covering your skin and getting rid of any standing water on your property before enjoying time outside.

Health department officials warn two intestinal parasites also pop up more this time of year. Giardia and Cryptosporidium are often found in contaminated water. Symptoms of Giardia include vomiting, chills, headache and fever, while Cryptosporidium can cause watery diarrhea, abdominal cramping, nausea and headaches. Both can be treated with anti-parasitic medications and prevented by avoiding drinking untreated water or swallowing it while swimming.

For more information on insect-borne diseases or others, contact the Hamilton County Health Department.