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posted: 9/10/2012 6:00 AM

Reducing your exposure to West Nile, hantavirus, plague

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  • Hantavirus, West Nile, Lyme disease and bubonic plague can be spread by ticks, top photo, mosquitoes and rats.

      Hantavirus, West Nile, Lyme disease and bubonic plague can be spread by ticks, top photo, mosquitoes and rats.
    Associated Press file photo

  • Mosquitoes are sorted at the Dallas County mosquito lab in Dallas.

      Mosquitoes are sorted at the Dallas County mosquito lab in Dallas.
    Associated Press file photo

  • A rat wanders the subway tracks at Union Square in New York. Bubonic plague can spread through contact with an infected flea, rodent or cat.

      A rat wanders the subway tracks at Union Square in New York. Bubonic plague can spread through contact with an infected flea, rodent or cat.
    Associated Press file photo

  • The bugs of late summer, such as this wood tick, are biting, although the risk of getting Hantavirus, West Nile, Lyme disease and bubonic plague is very small.

      The bugs of late summer, such as this wood tick, are biting, although the risk of getting Hantavirus, West Nile, Lyme disease and bubonic plague is very small.
    Associated Press

 
By Marilyn Marchione
Associated Press

The "bugs" of late summer are biting. The nation is having its worst West Nile virus season in a decade, and up to 10,000 people who stayed in California cabins are at risk of hantavirus. A second case of bubonic plague in the West has been confirmed -- in a girl in Colorado -- and scientists fear that a bumper crop of ticks could spread Lyme disease, the nation's most common bug-borne malady.

Yet the risk of getting these scary-sounding diseases is small. With the right precautions, you can still enjoy spending time outdoors. And that helps fight much more common threats to your health -- obesity and too little exercise.

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Hantavirus

How it's spread: Touching or breathing air particles of urine or droppings from certain types of mice or rats, especially deer mice.

Symptoms: Develop one to six weeks later and can include flu-like symptoms that progress into a dry cough, headache, nausea and vomiting, then shortness of breath.

Where it occurs: Anywhere in the U.S.; recent cases were in Yosemite National Park in California.

Prevention: Keep rodents out of your home; carefully clean any nests with disinfectant or bleach and water.

West Nile

How it's spread: Mosquitoes

Symptoms: Most people have none; some develop flu-like symptoms; a very small percentage get neurological symptoms.

Where it occurs: Nearly all states; this year, Texas has been hardest-hit. Illinois has seen a spike in cases reported. Cook County has seen 44 cases so far, while a total of 12 human cases of West Nile have been reported in DuPage County.

Prevention: Eliminate standing water that can breed mosquitoes; use insect repellents containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535 or oil of lemon eucalyptus.

Bubonic plague

How it's spread: Contact with an infected flea, rodent or cat; prairie dogs in Colorado can carry it.

Symptoms: Sudden fever, headache, chills, weakness and swollen lymph nodes.

Where it occurs: Only about half a dozen cases occur each year across the country, mostly in the Southwest.

Prevention: Avoid contact with rodents; limit brush, rock and wood piles and rodent breeding areas near the home.

Lyme disease

How it's spread: Ticks.

Symptoms: Fever, headache, fatigue and a bull's-eye rash. Untreated, it can cause joint, heart and nervous system problems.

Where it occurs: Northeast and mid-Atlantic coastal states; North central states, mostly Wisconsin and Minnesota; the West Coast, especially northern California.

Prevention: Use bug repellents with 20 percent or more DEET; when in the woods, walk in the center of trails, avoiding brush; shower soon after coming inside and check your body, hair and clothes for ticks. (Also helps prevent other tick-borne diseases such as ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia and babesiosis).

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