Beating the Bugs: Mosquitoes, Ticks and Other Unwelcome Youth Camp Guests

Kevin Prevost makes his living helping Mainers enjoy the outdoors – by helping reduce unwanted guests like mosquitoes and ticks. Among the clients served by his business, Top Leaf Tree, LLC, are more than half a dozen youth camps across the state. And those camps, says Prevost, are dealing with the consequences of a very wet spring, along with an early snowpack last winter. The result: abundant insects. Camps, however, are rising to the challenge, through a variety of strategies to beat the bugs and keep kids healthy.

According to Prevost, camps’ focus on parents’ “peace of mind” often leads them to choose organic over synthetic pesticide application. In addition, he says, camp leadership is also sensitive to the environmental impacts of pesticides upon the lakes or ponds they border.

But whether they are using organic or synthetic applications, Prevost says camps see great benefits from sophisticated and safe products. Moreover, he says, the State of Maine has advanced increasing restrictions on the use of synthetic products around kids. For example, one client, Camp Ketcha, may use only organic pesticides, Prevost says.

While Prevost travels across Maine to help address the impact of pests at various youth camps, camp directors offer varying reports of the impact of mosquitoes, ticks and other insects.

At Fernwood Cove, a girls’ camp in Harrison, co-owner and director Beigette Gill says they have historically sprayed for both mosquitoes and ticks. Gill says that a change in product has resulted in an increased impact of insect bites. Mosquito bites are more prevalent, she says, and are impacting some kids’ activities. In addition, there are many ticks, though primarily dog ticks.

Gill says the camp has long implemented procedures for addressing insects. At shower time campers do self-checks; fellow campers scan backs and other out-of-sight areas, she says. In addition, they have incorporated bug spray use into the daily ritual of water, sunscreen and hand sanitizer, she says.

At Camp Susan Curtis, in Stoneham, Director Terri Mulks says the camp is “all natural” – no spraying, no dragonfly larvae. The camp’s location on a conservation easement makes environmental concerns particularly relevant, she says.

This summer, ticks are “plentiful” in certain areas of camp, Mulks says. When kids spend time there, staff lead a tick check, she says. “For anything else, we train during the Staff Week and let staff know to keep their eyes out and spread the word to campers to do the same.”

In addition, mosquitoes have been “particularly dreadful,” Mulks says. Recent days have been better thanks to more dragonflies, “but we were all pretty miserable during Staff Training Week.”

Mulks says mosquitoes managed to find areas that repellent didn’t cover – feet and palms and scalps – and bit their hosts through clothing. “Most of us have accidentally ingested a few,” she says.

And the mosquito season has lingered, she says, though the arrival of dragonflies may bring improvement.

 

Alex Jackson, a director at girls’ Camp Runoia in Belgrade Lakes, says “parents definitely had ticks on their minds more this summer.” Jackson says the camp sprayed the property “for the first time, for both ticks and mosquitoes which has significantly cut down the bug bites.”

In addition, Camp Runoia has a regular rest hour tick check protocol, Jackson says. Conducting checks at rest hour affords better light than at bedtime, she says. Checks are conducted on wilderness trips in the same fashion, she says.

“We try to be as vigilant as possible and make sure all parents get information after camp about signs and symptoms of Lyme disease,” Jackson says.

In Fayette, at boys’ Camp Winnebago, owner and director Andy Lilienthal says parents demonstrate less worry about the impact of insects “as it becomes more endemic and germane to their lives.” At the camp, however, Lilienthal says, leadership has ongoing concern, and measures “are inculcated into the daily routine.”

Staff are taught how to do tick checks, and campers are instructed to look for ticks when they change, shower, and are getting ready for bed, he says. “It’s kind of like brushing their teeth.”

In addition, Lilienthal says the camp is vigilant about keeping grass short to minimize tick habitat.

“We don’t believe in spraying,” he says. Rather, camp leadership promotes close observation. And when trips return to camp, campers are evaluated at the health center for signs of Lyme.

Lilienthal’s wife and full-time camp pediatrician is Laura Blaisdell, MD. Blaisdell produced a webinar two years ago for Maine camp personnel focusing on the prevention, treatment and parent communication about ticks, mosquitoes and lice.  Entitled “Things That Bite @ Camp,” the program covered problems, policies and procedures, and communication and education.

Blaisdell outlined Lyme symptoms, such as fever, chills, fatigue, muscle and joint aches, and swollen lymph nodes. In addition, she described the erythema migrans rash, which begins at the tick bite location, expands gradually, and sometimes has a “bull’s-eye” appearance. The webinar also set forth the repercussions of missing a Lyme diagnosis, including neurological symptoms, joint pain and swelling, heart palpitations, and short-term memory problems.

Lyme Disease is preventable and treatable, according to the webinar, although prophylaxis is somewhat controversial. A clinical diagnosis, Lyme is treated with antibiotics, often Doxycycline.

DEET and Permethrin (repellent spray for clothing application only) are both common tick repellents, the webinar stated.

Blaisdell also addressed mosquito-borne illnesses, such as West Nile Virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis Virus, as well as the risk of infection from picking at bug bites. The webinar also describes mosquito prevention measures.

Camps must also confront the reality of camper lice outbreaks. Blaisdell’s webinar describes lice facts, lice treatment options, and screening specifics. At Camp Winnebago, Blaisdell uses the Nuvo® Method for head lice, which utilizes Cetaphil® Cleanser (www.nuvoforheadlice.com)

As with all issues related to camper wellness, parental communication is key. Lilienthal says parents are better versed in issues related to insect-borne illnesses and are more comfortable with camps’ handling of the risks and realities.

Blaisdell suggests in her webinar that upon diagnosis, a triangle of communication exist between the parent, physician and camp director. Camps must also consider communication of a treatment plan, and the question of second opinions. Moreover, the camp must continue to communicate with parents following camp. This assures not only the camper’s health, but also the camp’s credibility, she says.

Youth camps are fully underway. Kids are settled into tents and cabins, are embarking on wilderness trips, and are plunging into activities. They are swatting mosquitoes, doing tick checks, and in some regions dealing with the inconvenient itch and rash of the brown tail moth caterpillar. Camp is fun for myriad reasons, but it’s also an outdoor adventure with drawbacks like bites and itching. Camp leaders, however, are prepared. With a variety of measures, including camper education and guidance and staff observation, camp directors are keeping their missions in mind. Youngsters at camp in Maine are making friends, learning new skills, and thriving in the state’s natural beauty. And they are in the care of camp directors whose top priority is ensuring campers’ health and safety.

 

Kristine Millard

About Kristine Millard

Kristine Snow Millard is a free-lance writer from Portland and a fan of all things summer, including camp. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of New Hampshire, a master’s degree (communications) and a law degree from Boston University, and, most recently, earned an MFA in creative writing from the Stonecoast MFA Program at the University of Southern Maine. She is currently helping to edit The Art of Outdoor Living, a guidebook used for Junior Maine Guide candidates, and is a regular contributor to the Maine Summer Camps newsletter. She has also contributed to the American Camp Association New England newsletter. Kris has written regularly for Maine Women and My Generation, both publications of Current Publishing. She has written features for the Maine Sunday Telegram, and is also a free-lance grant writer. A parent, she is also deeply committed to the subject of emotional wellness, and has seen how camp can foster whole and healthy kids. She is working on a memoir about living with clinical depression, and an essay she has written on that topic is forthcoming in an anthology to be published by Talking Writing, an on-line literary magazine.