How to Prevent Insect Bites and Tick-Borne Diseases this Summer
Summer is peak-time for doing the outdoor activities we love: Gardening and grilling in the backyard; going for long hikes; cooling off at a swimming hole, and camping in the woods and sleeping under the stars.
Unfortunately, summer is also peak-time for insects. Warmer weather creates ideal conditions for flies, fleas, and ticks to thrive and, as a result, annoy the heck out of us.
While insect bites might be irritating and even painful, they’re usually pretty benign (think: bee stings and mosquito bites). Occasionally, though, bugs can spread serious infection to humans. The main culprits that jump out here are ticks, which can carry and transmit Lyme disease, an infection that may cause severe illness when not caught early.
But here’s the good news: you can take simple steps to protect yourself from insects this summer. We’ve outlined all of them below, as well as how your Friday Health Plan has you covered throughout the buggy months ahead.
Be aware of where ticks live
The first step in preventing a case of tick-borne disease is awareness: Knowing where ticks live and how to avoid them. It’s estimated that nearly 500,000 Americans are newly infected with Lyme and other tick-borne illnesses each year. You’ll see on the CDC that ticks primarily live in rural and wooded areas, but they are prevalent throughout the United States, from Central Park in New York to the mountains of California.
Challenge is the ticks that most commonly carry Lyme disease and infect humans are nymphal deer ticks. These ticks are tiny (less than 2mm), roughly the size of a sesame seed. If you aren’t looking for them, in many cases, you may not find them at all.
In higher altitude states, like Colorado and Nevada, the Rocky Mountain Wood tick is more common. These can cause infections like Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and tularemia.
Know the symptoms of Lyme and other tick-borne diseases
Often, when a tick transmits Lyme disease, it will leave a rash on the skin in the shape of a ‘bull’s eye’ mark. This classic rash will appear anywhere from 3 to 30 days after the bite. To successfully transmit infection, a tick will usually need to be attached for 36 to 48 hours.
But in some cases, this rash is either irregular or not present at all. The first Lyme disease symptoms you might experience are flu-like in nature: achiness, fever, and chills. For Rocky Mountain Fever, the most common symptoms are headache, nausea, fever, stomach pain, and lack of appetite.
If diagnosed early, Lyme can be treated effectively with a short course of antibiotics. But if caught in the later stages of illness, it can cause a wide-range of challenging health problems, including neurological ones, like facial paralysis and even meningitis. This is why awareness and prevention are so important.
Keep bugs at bay with insect repellent
To ward off mosquitoes, fleas, chiggers, leeches, and ticks, be sure to apply insect repellent to your clothes and skin before your outdoor adventure. Pro-tip: Make sure the repellent contains 20 to 30 percent DEET.
This is your best line of defense against bugs, and it’s highly effective. A little can go a long way with DEET, with a single application lasting for up to five hours.
DEET is also quite safe and is approved for children of all ages. Just be sure to spray away from the face, as it can definitely irritate the eyes and nose.
Wear the appropriate clothing when exploring the great outdoors
Don’t worry, we’re not gonna propose you go hiking wrapped in a bed net. But there are simple, non-ridiculous ways to stave off bugs with your clothing. If you’re headed into a buggy, densely-wooded area, for example, be sure to cover your exposed skin as much as possible.
As a simple layer of defense, wear a long-sleeve shirt, pants, socks, and closed shoes. Want a little more protection? Pull your socks up over your pants and tuck your shirt into your pants. And definitely be sure to spray DEET on your legs and ankles, as these are common entry points for ticks if you’re trekking through tall grass.
Pro-tip: You can pre-treat outer layers of your clothing with insect repellents containing the ingredient Permethrin. This powerful insecticide will repel or kill ticks as soon as they make contact. There are even insect-repellent clothing brands, like Insect Shield, that make apparel already treated with Permethrin.
Do tick checks as soon as you get home
So, you took all the necessary precautions to fend off bugs and now you’re back from your outdoor adventure. What next? Now it’s time for a final tick check. Remember: nymphal ticks are very small, little bigger than the size of a period at the end of a sentence. If you have a buddy, perform tick checks on each other, paying close attention to tick ‘hotspots’ on the body. The armpits, groin, scalp, and behind the ears are areas you will definitely want to check!
What happens if you find a tick on your body?
Safely and gently remove the tick with tweezers, pulling upward with a steady, even pressure. After, be sure to bag the tick and send it to a lab for testing. This way you’ll know what the tick was carrying (if anything), and what steps to take with your doctor.
Pro-tip: Clean the bite area and keep an eye on it for any signs of a rash over the next few weeks. If you get the bull’s eye rash, this is a clear indication that you need to see a doctor and start treatment.
Lastly, throw your clothes in the dryer for good measure
Now that you’ve thoroughly checked your body, it’s time for the final step: Toss your clothes in the dryer for six minutes (on high) and disarm any lingering insects attached to your gear.
And if you have any pets -- especially dogs -- be sure to check them for ticks, too, and give them a bath after your hike or camping trip!
Have any questions or concerns about your plan or benefits? Contact our Friday Care Crew for help! We’re here to keep you healthy and happy while doing what you love.