Summer Insect Health RisksDr. Jorge Parada
- National Pest Management Association
Wednesday, June 13, 2012
Mitigating the Downside to Summer Fun
Hurray - summer is finally here! This is
a glorious time of long hours of sun and warmth, walks and hikes,
swimming, camping and barbecues. There’s something for everyone in
the great outdoors.
But sometimes, don’t you just wish the mosquitoes, bees and other
pests would get the memo about being on vacation and just leave you
alone? Unfortunately, we all know there are downsides to communing
with nature and enjoying our summer fun.
So, let’s go over some of the more common summer insects,
why we should be concerned about them and what we can do to
mitigate the problem. Remember —especially when it comes to summer
insects — an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Bees, Hornets, Wasps and Yellowjackets
- The upside: They pollinate plants and flowers and help give us
fruits and vegetables. They also eat other harmful pests such as
grubs and flies.
- The downside: They dole out painful stings and give us anxiety
about being stung. Unfortunately, millions of Americans are at risk
for suffering severe allergic reactions.
Although typically a source of great anxiety for fear that they
might sting you, in fact, bees and yellowjackets rarely do sting
unless provoked. So, the number one rule is not to panic and swat
at a bee when it comes for a visit. If it lands on your skin, just
blow gently rather than smack at it. There are more aggressive
species, particularly wasps that can sting in painful attacks if
they feel threatened or you wander too close to their nest. While
painful, most insect stings usually result in a limited local
reaction, with pain and swelling. Unfortunately, about 3 percent of
people have more widespread allergic reactions, with rash and
hives. The most extreme cases of allergic reactions are called
anaphylaxis and symptoms include tongue and throat swelling,
wheezing, dizziness or even life threatening shortness of breath
and drop in blood pressure. If these symptoms arise, call 911. If
you are allergic to stinging insects you should know how to use an
epinephrine kit and carry it with you at all times.
If stung and the stinger is still in place, first remove the
stinger. Then clean the area with soap and cold water and apply
ice. Benadryl and over-the-counter 1 percent hydrocortisone
ointment may help calm the reaction. Consider taking a pain
reliever as needed.
- The upside: Is there one?
- The downside: Mosquito bites are a common, insect-related
reason parents seek medical help for their children. The local
reactions and itchy lesions that are results of mosquito bites are
no fun, but luckily, severe reactions are extremely uncommon.
Mosquitoes bite most intensely around dawn and dusk. If you must
or want to be outside during those times, it’s best to be inside a
screened-in porch or dressed in clothing that leaves very little
exposed skin. Your best protection will be insect repellant, such
as DEET or picaridin.
A mosquito bite typically results in a pink bump that itches. As
tempting as it may be, don’t scratch it! Scratching only agitates
the venom and increases your itching. In addition, over-scratching
might cause breaks in the skin that can serve as a port of entry
for bacterial superinfections. Although less common, some people
can be more sensitive to mosquito bites and have more severe
reactions, such as welts or hives. All bites should be washed with
soap and cold water. Benadryl and over-the-counter 1 percent
hydrocortisone cream may be indicated for intense itching and the
larger reactions. If there are signs and symptoms of infection you
may need to see your doctor for antibiotics.
Unfortunately, mosquitoes can leave more than a local reaction.
Sometimes they may transmit infections like malaria, dengue, or
West Nile Virus (WNV). Luckily, in the United States we rarely
encounter malaria or dengue, but WNV has become widespread. The
good news is that in most cases WNV is a mild and self-limited
infection. Symptoms may be so light as to go unnoticed, or present
as a “summer flu,” with mild body and headaches and low-grade
fever. In rare and extreme cases WNV is a potentially life
threatening infection. Symptoms include higher fever, head and body
aches, confusion and worsening weakness and such symptoms should
prompt you to seek medical attention.
- The downside: The serious illness that ticks can transmit, such
as Lyme Disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Babesia (“tick
malaria”), amongst others.
Obviously, the best way to avoid ticks and their associated
problems is to not pick them up in the first place, but that can be
easier said than done. It’s a good idea to wear clothing that
leaves less skin exposed that can act as a barrier to the ticks. So
flip-flops, sandals, shorts and T-shirts are out when planning a
hike to areas that are likely to have ticks. Wear boots and long
socks, and remember to tuck your long pants into your socks when
hiking. The best protection against ticks consists of
permethrin-treated clothing and gear, combined with DEET
applied to exposed skin.
Keep in mind that most ticks need to feed for hours before they
can successfully transmit infections. So, it is very important that
after hikes you do a full body check (including in the hair) to
look for ticks. If removed promptly, the risk of infection
If you do find a tick on your body or that of a family member or
pet, it’s important to carefully remove the tick right away. Use
fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin's
surface as possible. Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don't
twist or jerk the tick as this can cause the mouth-parts to break
off and remain in the skin. Avoid squashing the tick because
spreading tick blood in the bite wound might increase the risk of
infection. Once the tick is removed, clean the area with soap and
water and perhaps an antiseptic. If you develop a rash, headaches,
pains or fever, call your doctor immediately.
The lowdown on bug repellant
The good news is bug repellants really do work in deterring
mosquitoes, ticks, biting flies, chiggers and other insects. The
bad news is that they are ineffective against spiders and stinging
insects, such as yellowjackets, wasps, bees or hornets.
The gold standard of insect repellant is DEET. It has been in
use for more than 50 years and is recommended for use in persons
above 2 months of age. The alternative repellant of choice is
picaridin is also effective against mosquitoes, ticks, and sand
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