By Clifford W. Bassett, MD FACAAI, FAAAAI Medical Director, Allergy & Asthma Care of NY Follow Dr. Bassett on Twitter @allergyreliefny.
It’s that time of the year again, when hungry pests such as mosquitoes and ticks are looking for their next meal. This is especially true if you live in some of the countries buggiest cities! A recent survey found the top bite-prone places are the south, including coastal Virginia, Florida, Louisiana, Texas, Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia and Texas.
Let’s start with the good news first. In most cases, mosquitoes are just plain annoying, and not seriously harmful. However, we need to pay close attention to the spread of West Nile Virus infection, which has raised the risk of a serious problem for many of us, particularly in endemic areas. The most problematic bug bite this summer comes from ticks: deer ticks in the northern US and Lone Star ticks in the south and west. Oftentimes, contain Lyme disease bacteria, which can make you quite sick.
There are many great tactics to take to prevent bug bites this season. Here are some common mosquito-bite prevention strategies:
- Cover your exposed arms and legs with long-sleeved shirts and pants.
- Use a good fan to reduce the likelihood of pesky mosquitoes from landing on prime biting surfaces … you!
- Keep windows closed with air-conditioning on to keep them out.
- Make sure your screens on windows and doors are in good shape.
- Consider wearing mosquito-resistant clothing that may contain chemical repellents.
- Try to eliminate standing water that can be a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
- Use an appropriate insect repellent (chemicals such as DEET, pyrethrum) as well as natural botanical oils, such as oil of lemon eucalyptus. Always follow instructions on the label, especially for children, and apply in a well-ventilated area. The concentration of a repellent will dictate how long it is effective in providing bite protection.
- Avoid being outside at prime biting times such as dawn and dusk.
- Take a shower; body odor can be an attractant to mosquitoes.
Ready for a twist? You can, in fact, be “allergic” to mosquitoes! In fact, some individuals may suffer from Skeeter's Syndrome, an allergic reaction to mosquito bites that makes bites redder, puffier, swollen and& sometimes painful. If you've ever thought your bites looked or felt worse than others, you may have Skeeter’s Syndrome. Take an allergy test with your doctor to help pinpoint the cause.
Naturally, when you get a bite, of course, want to start scratching. Don’t! First, use warm soapy water as a sanitary wash. Next, apply ice compresses to help reduce swelling, as well as a topical OTC or prescription steroid cream. An oral antihistamine will help reduce itchiness.
Here are some common tick-bite prevention strategies:
- Always cover skin-exposed areas with tucked in shirts and pants.
- Closed shoes are preferable to open-toe sandals.
- Use additional caution when walking and/or hiking in wooded and high-brush areas. Stay in the center of paths and trails.
- Use an appropriate repellent. Chemical repellents such as DEET may afford longer and more vigorous protection. This is particularly important if an area is heavily populated with ticks.
- Do a tick check on your “buddy” whenever possible immediately after coming inside, especially after hiking in higher risk areas. Don't forget to check areas such as under the armpits, behind knees and ears.
- Take a shower also after coming inside.
- Consider a tick-repellent collar for your pets.
A normal non-infected tick bite is red & looks like a bite. Sometimes, ticks can be so small, that you may not see them at all! You need to be concerned about the bacteria in the tick that can lead to Lyme disease, as it may be associated with a variety of complications, including neurological, heart problems, arthritis, fatigue to name a few.
Also very important is to be on the lookout for the famous “bulls-eye” rash that can be not only at the attachment site, but also anywhere on the body. It usually appears as a red outer ring that surrounds a clear area. It may take 3 days or up to 3 weeks for the rash to appear. Of course, see your doctor for appropriate testing and/or treatment, without delay.
So how do you remove a tick found? Never burn the tick off, as it may traumatize it and cause an increased risk of infection. Go with tried and true tweezer extraction. Remove the tick gently, with steady hands. Remember to clean the area with soap and water and/or alcohol. Keep it for analysis by your local health department
– they can test the tick for the bacteria that causes Lyme disease.
Remember: The best defense is a good offense for bug bites, so this summer, be prepared to “fight the bite!”