Summer means an increase in bug and insect activity. How do you know which insects are harmful, what diseases they carry and how to safely avoid them?
"Mosquitoes and ticks are the two pests you primarily want to avoid because they potentially carry infectious diseases," says Jennifer Layden, MD, infectious disease specialist at Loyola University Health System. "Ticks can carry Lyme Disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and mosquitoes can spread West Nile Virus."
Insect repellents are used to avoid exposure to pests that can bite, attach or burrow into the skin. DEET is the most effective ingredient to protect against biting insects. "Common insect repellent products contain up to 30% DEET for maximum protection," says Christina Hantsch, MD, toxicologist at Loyola. "Products with DEET provide longer duration protection as the concentration of DEET increases."
The longest duration is up to 5 hours for 30% DEET concentration. "Use a product appropriate for the duration of the outdoor activity," advises Hantsch. "I recommend avoiding extended chemical product exposure by changing clothes and washing off insect repellent with soap and water when you come inside."
DEET and other insect repellents such as citronella are generally safe for individuals over 2 months of age. To use a specific product correctly, follow the directions on the package. "Check labels to use a product that is approved by the Environmental Protection Agency as an added measure of safety," says Layden. "I usually recommend that product be reapplied every few hours to maintain effectiveness."
Layden recommends that adults administer insect repellent to children. "Kids can have a difficult time manipulating cans and bottles. You want to avoid inhaling repellent or getting it in mouths or eyes," she says.
Clothing that is pre-treated with repellent is available and remains effective through many washings. "Permethrin-treated fabric is a great option for those who are very active outdoors in the warm months," says Layden. "Treated clothing is safe and approved."
Tips from Dr. Layden on how to avoid bugs this summer are:
• Dusk and dawn are the prime hours for insects
• Wear long sleeves and long pants to cover skin
• Wear light colors which tend to not attract bugs
• Wear loose clothing to avoid skin irritation
"Calamine lotion is effective to take away the annoying itch of a mosquito bite," says Hantsch. For tick removal, use a tweezer as close to the entry of the skin as possible to remove the whole tick. "Clean the bite area with an antiseptic and cover with a loose bandage."
Signs that medical attention is needed include fever, vomiting, excessive sleepiness, swelling, redness and infection.
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