Everything You Need to Know About Bug Bites and Disease
How Can I Protect Myself?
Bug bites are a fact of life, and they usually do not lead to serious illness. However, preventing insect and tick bites is vital to stopping the spread of vector-borne diseases.
Here are some steps that you can take to protect yourself and your family.
Get Rid of Standing Water
TheAedes aegyptimosquito that transmits Zika, dengue, and chikungunya is known as a container-breeding mosquito because it likes to lay eggs around standing water.
A 2008 study conducted by researchers at the University of California, Davis, found that an economic downturn in Bakersfield, California, was associated with a 276 percent increase in West Nile virus cases. Aerial surveillance revealed that stagnant water sitting in swimming pools in abandoned foreclosed homes had become breeding grounds for mosquitoes. (14)
Make sure there is no stagnant water in damp cellars, swimming pools, storm drains, flowerpots, garden fountains, or any moist places for mosquitoes to nest and reproduce.
Reduce the Risk for Mosquito Bites
The best protection against mosquito-borne illnesses is to avoid getting a mosquito bite in the first place. The CDC offers several tips on its website: (15)
- Use an effective insect repellent. The CDC recommends EPA-registered insect repellents that contain DEET, Picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or 2-undecanone. When used as directed, these repellents are proven safe and effective, even for pregnant and breastfeeding women.
- Keep mosquitoes outside of your home. Make sure your windows and doors have screens. Inspect the screens and fix any holes.
- Treat clothing and gear with insecticide. You can spray boots, pants, socks, and tents with permethrin; or buy permethrin-treated clothing and gear.
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants. These give you an extra layer of protection.
Know How to Avoid, Spot, and Remove Ticks
Ticks live in grassy wooded areas. They can also travel on animals, like deer, mice, or the family pet. Any time spent outdoors — whether it’s gardening, walking the dog, or camping — can bring you in contact with ticks.
If you’re walking outdoors, avoid wooded and brushy areas with high grasses and piles of leaves.
Treat clothing and gear with permethrin. A recent study conducted by researchers at the CDC found the insecticide to be highly effective in incapacitating ticks and preventing bites. (16)
Do a careful tick check when you come indoors. Check under the arms, around the ears, inside the belly button, between the legs, behind the knees, and in and around the hair on your head — all places where ticks like to hide.
Tumble dry clothing on high heat for 10 minutes to kill any ticks. Shower within two hours of coming indoors.
If you spot a tick, be careful how you remove it. The goal is to pull it out steadily and slowly so you remove all of it, including the head.
The CDC advises using fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick close to the skin’s surface. Then pull upward with steady, even pressure. Once you’ve removed the tick, clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.
“People should educate themselves, know what the ticks look like, know how to pull them out of your skin, and understand how to protect yourself from infection,” says Ostfeld.
Watch Out for Zika Hotspots
So far this year, no local mosquito-borne Zika virus transmissions have been reported in the continental United States. The CDC says that 20 cases reported as of June 6, 2019, were travelers returning from affected areas. However, 62 cases acquired through presumed local mosquito-borne transmission have been reported in Puerto Rico. (17)
The CDC advises pregnant women, partners of pregnant women, and even couples considering having children to avoid travel to areas where Zika is endemic. Areas with a high risk of Zika include many nations in Africa, Asia, Central and South America, and the Caribbean. (18)
Myron Cohen, MD, the director of the Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine in Chapel Hill, believes the recent CDC data can help raise awareness and education about all of these diseases.
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