I swatted a mosquito in late February at my son’s soccer game just outside Jefferson City. February! In June, working up straw bales on my in-laws’ farm, we were talking how many ticks and mosquitoes we had been seeing this year. And as my family continues our quest to visit all 88 Missouri state parks and historic sites, bug spray is prominent on our packing list. My point is that these darn bugs are everywhere and there are lots of them!

In addition to working outdoors, many Missourians enjoy activities like barbecuing, gardening, camping, fishing and hunting. Unfortunately, many of the outdoor places we work and play also harbor mosquitoes and ticks. They come out early in the year, stay out late into the year and reproduce at very high rates. It is important that we protect ourselves against the diseases these bugs can carry.

Before heading outdoors, protect yourself from bug bites. Tick-borne diseases such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever and mosquito-borne diseases such as West Nile virus are always seasonal threats in Missouri.

Since January, the Department of Health and Senior Services has been working to learn about, and educate Missourians on, the newly emerging threat posed by the Zika virus, which is a relative of the yellow fever and dengue viruses. You have probably heard about Zika and the horrible birth defects it can cause. While health officials around the globe are still learning more about this relatively new disease, we already know that the key way to protect ourselves from Zika is to minimize exposure to the mosquitoes that are known to carry it. There are easy steps you can take to protect yourself while on the job, at home or enjoying Missouri’s outdoors:

  1. Wear insect repellent on your skin and clothing, and check to make sure it contains DEET.
  2. Wear loose fitting clothing that covers your skin.
  3. Ensure that windows and screens are secure, and use air conditioning when possible.
  4. Eliminate standing water around your home. Buckets, tires, planters, toys, flowerpots — anything that can hold more than a capful of water — provides a place for mosquitoes to lay eggs and should be dumped out.
  5. Talk to family members and friends about the importance of preventing bug bites.

Though they peak in the summer, mosquitoes and ticks can be found anytime the ground is not frozen. Repeating all of these steps throughout the season is the best way to minimize the risk of infection by a disease-carrying insect. Enjoy Missouri’s outdoors, and stay safe!

For more information visit or talk to your local public health agency.

Peter Lyskowski is the acting director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.

Photo credit: John Tann

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