Control the bites, day and night

How’s that old song go? Summertime, and the biting is easy?! Once the late spring rain subsides and July arrives, heat and fireworks aren’t the only things driving us crazy. Insects of every possible shape and variety are numerous, noisy, defensive, and hungry. Many of these pesky little creatures leave us alone, but the more aggressive species will bug us to distraction, and their bites or stings can cause allergic reactions, discomfort, itchy side effects or illness.

Unless you plan to spend the summer indoors, you’re likely to come in contact with some of these annoying critters. You can improve your odds of not getting bitten by wearing protective clothing, headgear and socks, using insect repellants and citronella products, minimizing use of cologne and perfume when planning outdoor activities, avoiding swampy areas, and moving the party indoors during the height of bite time. You also can spray clothes with repellent containing permethrin, and use a repellant like DEET on your skin.

Practice avoidance, and be prepared

If you know you have an allergy to one of these insects, you should always carry an epi-pen or other backup medication in case you’re stung or bitten, and seek immediate medical attention. For the rest of us, most bites or stings leave a mark and cause some swelling and irritation. Ice or a cool compress applied directly to the site can bring relief, as can topical salves, ointments or sprays sold over the counter. If the area around the bite continues to expand or becomes blistery and weepy, you have to get checked for a possible infection.

If you’re not aware of allergies but react dramatically, experiencing symptoms such as dizziness, nausea, vomiting, trouble breathing or extensive swelling, it’s important to get to a hospital, urgent care center or physician immediately, or to call for emergency medical assistance as quickly as possible.

Protecting against ticks and mosquitoes

While it is a good idea to take preventive measures against ticks year-round, be extra vigilant in warmer months (April through September) when ticks are most active. In summer, when out hiking, biking, camping, and spending time in and around grass and woods, there are several steps you can take to limit bites from ticks, mosquitoes and other disease-bearing insects.

Avoid direct contact with ticks and mosquitoes as possible. If you can, avoid wooded and bushy areas with high grass and leaf litter. When hiking, picnicking or walking, try to remain in the center of trails. You can repel ticks and mosquitoes with DEET or Permethrin.

  • Use repellents that contain 20 percent or more DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide) on the exposed skin for protection that lasts up to several hours. Always follow product instructions. Parents should apply this product to their children, avoiding hands, eyes, and mouth.
  • Use products that contain permethrin on clothing. Treat clothing and gear, such as boots, pants, socks and tents. It remains protective through several washings. Pre-treated clothing is available and remains protective for up to 70 washings.
  • If you’re using other repellents, go to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website for safety information.

Handling ticks

Ticks embedded in your skin can be gross, but painless. The best bet is to keep them at bay. But if they do find you, here are tips for dealing with them easily and effectively:

  • Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors (preferably within two hours) to wash off and more easily find ticks that are crawling on you.
  • Conduct a full-body tick check using a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body upon return from tick-infested areas. Parents should check their children for ticks under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist, and especially in their hair.
  • Examine gear and pets. Ticks can ride into the home on clothing and pets, then attach to a person later, so carefully examine pets, coats, and day packs. Tumble clothes in a dryer on high heat for an hour to kill remaining ticks.
  • Consult your doctor or a nurse (or internet sources) to determine the best method for removing the tick; it’s important to remove the entire tick, or it can leave parts embedded in your skin.

Should you or a family member develop a bulls-eye-type red rash near the bite site, or exhibit other side effects such as a fever, lethargy or extreme exhaustion, consult your doctor. You may need to be tested for Lyme disease, which is common in New England and treated with antibiotics.

Other biting and stinging insects

Here’s a brief primer on stinging and biting insects most common in the Northeast:

Spiders:  Most spiders in New England are relatively harmless as long as you’re not allergic to their bite. One of the common venomous spiders in this region is the Brown Recluse. You can identify this spider by the violin-shaped marking on its back. The bite produces a mild stinging, followed by local redness and intense pain within eight hours. A fluid-filled blister forms at the site and then sloughs off to leave a deep, enlarging ulcer. Reactions from a Brown Recluse spider bite vary from a mild fever and rash to nausea and listlessness. On rare occasions death results, more often in children.

If bitten by a spider, try and identify the type of spider that bit you. Clean the site of the spider bite well with soap and water. Apply a cool compress over the spider bite location. If the bite is on an extremity, elevate it. Aspirin or acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) and antihistamines may be used to relieve minor signs and symptoms in adults. Use caution when giving aspirin to children or teenagers. Talk to your doctor if you have concerns.

Honeybees are commonly found throughout the United States. They usually nest in hives built in hollow trees or rock crevices or in building walls. They are not usually aggressive unless they are near their hive. They sting only once and leave behind a barbed stinger with a small venom sac attached.

Wasps are able to sting more than once. They build paper nests that resemble a bee’s honeycomb without any covering. They usually nest under eaves or rain gutters, behind shutters, in crevices and vent openings, and sometimes on the underside of wooden decks and outdoor furniture. You can often see wasps on the outside of their nests.

Yellow jackets are a kind of wasp that are aggressive and sting with little or no provocation, especially when near food. They are able to sting more than once and usually do not lose their stinger. They are more common in the late summer and fall. They usually make their nests underground, but nests may be found in walls, crevices, and hollow logs as well. They are attracted to food and may be found around open trash cans and dumpsters. You may come upon a yellow jacket while doing yard work, gardening, or farming.

Hornets are closely related to wasps; in fact, the hornet is a specific type of wasp. There is only one species of hornet present in North America and is not particularly aggressive.

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