Does your picnic turn into a swat-fest? Is your fishing trip a mosquito-infested nightmare? Then brace yourself for summer's sting.
Although most insects are just nuisances, some can threaten our health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that mosquitoes and ticks can be two of the most dangerous pests. Mosquitoes worldwide transmit diseases from malaria to dengue fever -- two tropical illnesses that can show up in the United States because of changing travel and weather patterns. Mosquitoes also spread West Nile virus, which can become life-threatening in the elderly and chronically ill. And some ticks transmit Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
A single mosquito bite is no reason to panic. On the other hand, an infestation of cockroaches or fire ants is a serious problem. The first step is to find out what kind of bug is bugging you. Sometimes the solution involves using a pesticide. Other times, pesticides are either unnecessary or inappropriate. Take care with pesticides: Pick the right one and follow the directions. Contact your state cooperative extension service to find reliable information.
Yellow jackets, paper wasps, bumblebees and hornets nest in hollow places such as eaves or logs. If their nest is remote, ignore it. Otherwise, find it during daylight and eliminate it with insecticides at night, when the bugs are home and least active. But very careful. A nest of wasps that's incorrectly dealt with can be a life-threatening event. One yellow jacket sting can kill an allergic person in 15 minutes.
To contain spiders, reduce clutter and make sure screens fit tightly. Use a broom to knock down cobwebs and egg sacs. Most spiders don't bite, although two types do: the brown recluse, found in the Midwest and South, and the black widow, common in the Southwest. If you're bitten by a spider, seek medical attention; bring the spider with you for identification.
They're the top cause of inner-city allergens and related asthma. They also can transport bacteria. Cockroaches feed on garbage, human waste, spillage and even soap, so close containers tightly and keep areas clean, indoors and out. Block access to your house by caulking around pipes. Don't leave food out overnight.
Most species are just a nuisance. But if you live in or visit the South or Southwest, you may encounter fire ants, which sting. Avoid stepping on their mounds.
They're mainly a nuisance, but they can transmit bacteria on their bodies. One fly landing on your hamburger doesn't necessarily mean you need to toss the burger. Use common sense: If you're going to serve food outdoors, you want to have the food covered until you are ready to eat it. And pay attention to location. If you picnic next to the dump, chances are the flies will be carrying more germs than in a pristine suburb. Keep garbage in closed containers. Some flies bite; insect repellent and protective clothing can help.
These critters can transmit diseases ranging from malaria to West Nile virus, but most mosquitoes don't. Cases of West Nile virus have been reported in all areas of the United States and in Canada. In addition to carrying West Nile, the most publicized encephalitis, mosquitoes can also carry eastern equine encephalitis, western equine encephalitis, St. Louis encephalitis and La Crosse encephalitis.
Dump standing water from old tires, flowerpots or birdbaths to eliminate breeding spots. Avoid exposure at twilight, when mosquitoes are most active.
Spray skin with a repellent containing DEET or Picaridin (KBR 3023). According to the CDC, protection varies widely, depending on temperature, perspiration and water exposure. For example, a study in 2002 showed that a product containing 23.8 percent DEET provided an average of five hours of protection from mosquito bites; products with 4.75 percent DEET provided about 1-1/2 hours of protection.
Another recently approved product, oil of lemon eucalyptus, provides protection similar to repellents with low concentrations of DEET. Clothing can be sprayed with permethrin. Permethrin is primarily an insecticide, but also a repellant, and one of the best against ticks. It doesn't work as effectively against mosquitoes as does DEET. Using a combination of DEET and permethrin works well. Follow directions with care. Use repellents on skin sparingly. The CDC says an effective repellent will contain 35 percent DEET. Levels higher than 50 percent work no better.
If you're in dense brush, woods or fields from April through September, use tick repellent (DEET applied to the skin and clothing, along with permethrin applied to the clothes only) and wear long shirts and pants that fit tightly around wrists, waist and ankles. Check yourself at least twice daily; if you find a tick embedded in your skin, remove it with tweezers or with fingers covered with tissue paper, then wash your hands. Don't remove it with heat or other methods. Ticks carry many diseases, with Lyme disease the most widely known. Lesser known illnesses carried by ticks include Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Colorado tick fever, tularemia, ehrlichiosis and Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness (STARI).
These blood-sucking pests feed on people and pets. Most are more nuisance than threat, but in the summer, certain fleas in the Southwest carry the pathogen linked to bubonic plague, Yersinia pestis. Hikers should use repellents for themselves and their pets. In addition, if you live in the Southwest, never pick up or touch a dead wild animal such as a chipmunk or prairie dog. If it has died plague, the fleas that lived on it can jump onto you.
The end of summer doesn't mean an end to bugs. Lice thrive in winter on warm-blooded hosts, such as humans. Lice pose no great health threat but can cause intense itching, and scratching them can lead to an infection. Two diseases can be transmitted by body lice: trench fever and typhus.