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Summer Insect Bites

How to Stay Safe and Comfortable

A woman scratching her arm.

Being outside is one of the best parts of summer. But when we're outside, we're never alone. There are plenty of warm-weather insects that can make our picnics and pool time significantly less enjoyable. Learn how to avoid and treat common bites.

1. Ticks

We all know the importance of identifying changing moles as a warning sign for cancer. This time of year, inevitably, someone will come into the clinic with a “changing mole” or a “blood blister” that is actually an engorged tick.

“Diseases spread by ticks are an increasing concern in Ohio and are being reported to the Ohio Department of Health more frequently in the past decade, with Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF) being the most common. Other tickborne diseases such as anaplasmosis, babesiosis, and ehrlichiosis are also on the rise. Though rare, diseases such as tularemia, southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI), and Powassan virus may also be carried by Ohio ticks.”

Two Ticks to Watch For in Ohio:

  • The black-legged tick (Ixodes scapularis), which is the tick responsible for spreading Lyme Disease, can now be found in at least 60 counties in our state, mostly in the eastern, southern, and central parts. Also called a “deer tick,” this is a small, black-bodied tick that primarily lives off of the white tailed deer. It lives on the forest floor and can hang from vegetation to attach itself to prey.

  • Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) is also spread by ticks. In this case, the culprit is the American dog tick, Dermacentor variabilis. These are the type of tick most commonly encountered in Ohio, and they can be found in all parts of the state. Cats and dogs are prone to picking up the dog tick in areas of tall grass or clearings, especially in the warmer months.

Symptoms of Lyme Disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

Lyme Disease typically presents as a red, expanding, ring-like rash occurring 7-15 days after tick detachment that has a “bulls eye” appearance. It is important that this stage of disease be recognized and treated appropriately because if left untreated, the infection can spread internally causing organ system and nervous system damage.

RMSF presents as a fever and headache, with a rash that usually develops 2-4 days after the fever begins. The look of the rash isn’t as typical as that of Lyme Disease, and can be splotchy or look like dots. While most patients develop this rash, not all do, so it can be tricky to diagnose RMSF, but it’s important to catch it as early as possible. This illness is acute and can result in long-term damage, though it does not result in a chronic infection as Lyme can.

Preventing Tick-Borne Illness:

1. Avoid Ticks:

The most important way to avoid tick-borne disease is to avoid getting bitten by ticks in the first place. Apply an insect repellent with DEET before any exposure to normal tick habitats.

2. Remove Ticks Properly:

If you do identify a tick attached to your skin, the proper way to remove it is with tweezers. Grasp the tick as close to the base of the skin as possible and pull upward with steady, even pressure. Do not twist or jerk the tick and avoid “folklore” remedies such as nail polish, petroleum jelly, or burning the tick off.

Call your dermatologist or primary care doctor immediately if you develop a rash at the site of the tick bite or a fever within days of the bite.

2. Mosquitos

With the arrival of summer, warm weather, and outdoor activities, it's also the season of pesky mosquitoes. While these tiny insects may seem harmless, they can be more than just a nuisance. Mosquito bites can cause itchy, inflamed skin and, in some cases, transmit diseases like West Nile virus.

Preventing Mosquito Bites:

1. Mosquito Repellents and Protective Clothing:

One of the most effective ways to avoid mosquito bites is by using mosquito repellents. Look for repellents containing DEET or picaridin. Apply the repellent to exposed skin, and, if you're also using sunscreen, apply the repellent first and allow it to dry before applying sunscreen.

Additionally, wearing long sleeves, pants, and socks can provide an extra layer of protection, especially during peak mosquito activity times, such as dawn and dusk.

2. Reduce Mosquito Breeding Areas:

Mosquitoes breed in standing water, so eliminating any stagnant water sources around your home is crucial. Regularly empty and clean flower pots, birdbaths, pet water bowls, and gutters to prevent water accumulation.

3. Seek Professional Help:

If you experience severe mosquito bites, develop an allergic reaction, or have concerns about mosquito-borne diseases, it's essential to seek professional help. Dermatology experts can diagnose and treat skin conditions resulting from mosquito bites.

3. Fleas

Fleas, the tiny and resilient pests, are not just a problem for your beloved pets but can also pose risks to your skin and home. These blood-feeding parasites can cause itchy bites, transmit diseases, and infest your living spaces if left unchecked.

Recognizing Flea Bites and Skin Reactions:

Flea bites often appear as small, red bumps with a central puncture mark and are commonly found around the ankles, legs, or waist. If you suspect flea bites, it's crucial to resist the urge to scratch, as it can lead to secondary infections.

Applying over-the-counter anti-itch creams, such as Sarna lotion, or using cold compresses can help alleviate discomfort. However, if the itching persists or if you notice severe skin reactions, such as swelling or blisters, seeking professional dermatological care is advisable for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Prescription corticosteroids, either given topically or systemically, can often give rapid relief from itching.

Treating Fleas in Your Home and Pets:

To effectively combat fleas, it's essential to address both your home and your pets. Vacuuming regularly, especially in areas where your pets spend most of their time, can help remove flea eggs, larvae, and pupae. Washing your pet's bedding in hot water can also help eliminate fleas and their eggs.

Additionally, consulting a veterinarian for appropriate flea treatments and preventive measures for your pets is crucial. Topical treatments, oral medications, and flea collars can be effective in controlling flea infestations and protecting your pets from further bites.



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