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Living Well

Backyard Bugs: What Diseases Local Insects Carry

Last updated: Aug 01, 2016

Mosquitoes carrying Zika have not been found in New Jersey, but there are other insects that can cause potentially serious illnesses in our area. Daniel Hart, MD, an infectious disease specialist at Summit Medical Group, says it is important to mitigate your risk from late spring to early fall when these bugs are most prevalent.

The diseases these insects carry tend to cause the same general set of symptoms including high fever, severe headaches, fatigue, rash joint pain, nausea, and vomiting.

“For most people, these illnesses will run their course like a typical cold,” says Dr. Hart.

“For individuals who become severely ill and need to be hospitalized, we make sure to keep them hydrated and control other preexisting conditions. These infections are more concerning in those who are elderly or have a compromised immune system.”

Tickborne Diseases

Dr. Hart says the biggest threat in the tri-state area is ticks, which attach themselves to the skin. When these bugs bite, bacteria enter the blood stream and can cause a host of illnesses including:

  • Lyme disease – often causes a telltale rash that has a bull’s-eye appearance
  • Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever – characterized by spotted rashes on the wrists, forearms, and ankles
  • Anaplasmosis
  • Ehrlichiosis

It is important to check your skin for ticks. Unlike mosquitos, which bite and fly away, these tiny insects bite and attach themselves to the skin. Do not forget to check children and pets as well. Put clothes in the dryer for 10 minutes to kill any ticks that are clinging to the fabric. 

“Ticks like to crawl into moist warm nooks and crannies so pay careful attention behind the ears and knees,” Dr. Hart says. “If you see a tick, remove it by the head and pull it straight up using tweezers. If you squeeze the body of the tick, it can inject more fluid into the bite wound. Do not use nail polish or a match.”

Report any possible symptoms to your physician. Tickborne diseases can cause potentially fatal illnesses, including inflammation of the brain and spinal cord, cognitive problems, and heart palpitations, if they are not treated right away.

Dr. Hart says there are several medications that can treat the bacteria transmitted by ticks. Antibiotics are usually prescribed for a few weeks and have a quick response in the majority of cases.

Mosquito-borne Diseases 

There are several mosquitoes that can transmit potentially serious illness throughout the country. Unlike tickborne disease, there are no specific treatments available for the viruses caused by these bugs. They include: 

West Nile Virus

  • Found in every state in the continental U.S., outbreaks of this virus tend to vary in size each year.
  • Some 20 percent of people who are infected will develop mild symptoms like muscle aches, fever, vomiting, or rash. Nearly one in every 150 people will experience serious neuroinvasive illness such as meningitis, inflammation of the brain.
  • In 2012, there was an outbreak of West Nile Virus in Texas with 1,868 cases reported. However, in 2015, there were only 25 cases reported in New Jersey.

La Crosse encephalitis

  • Most cases of this virus have been reported in wooded areas of the upper Midwest, mid-Atlantic, and Southeast.
  • Many people who are infected never develop symptoms, but severe cases can result in nervous system damage, mainly in children. There is no treatment available.
  • Nearly 100 cases of La Crosse encephalitis are found in the United States each year.


  • More than 400 million people are infected each year with dengue. It is the leading cause of death in tropical areas.
  • Nearly 25 percent of people will develop symptoms that include excessive bruising and bleeding, and in serious cases, hemorrhagic fever.
  • From 2009-2010, an outbreak of 88 cases occurred Key West, Florida. Typically, around 28 people contract the virus in the United States each year. Thus far, dengue has not been found in New Jersey.


  1. Interview with Daniel Hart, MD, SMG infectious disease specialist (6/3/16)
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Preventing Tick Bites on People.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 31 May 2016. Web. 6 June 2016. 
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Zika Virus.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 6 July 2016. Web. 10 June 2016.
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “La Crosse encephalitis.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 11 Apr 2016. Web. 12 June 2016.
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “West Nile Virus.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2 Dec 2015. Web. 12 June 2016.
  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 21 Nov 2013. Web. 12 June 2016.
  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Dengue.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 19 January 2016. Web. 12 June 2016.