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These Small Bugs can Cause Big Problems

As temperatures rise and days get longer, it's natural to want to spend more time outdoors, especially since you're probably spending more time than usual at home. But as you enjoy the fresh air, there's a good chance you won't be alone even if you're following social distancing guidelines, since many insects will be buzzing and creeping about. And if you're not careful, these small bugs can pose a risk to your health that goes beyond annoying bites or painful stings.

It's important to be aware of insects commonly found in the area where you live and to know how to stay safe when sharing an environment with them. Some of the more common culprits – and the health risks they may cause – are listed below.

Ticks: Checking carefully for ticks and tick bites is important because they can spread serious diseases. The most common is Lyme disease, which can lead to chronic complications if not detected and treated early. Ticks also transmit other diseases, from babesiosis and anaplasmosis to Rocky Mountain spotted fever, although thankfully some are rare. To avoid ticks, stay away from wooded areas, tall grass and piles of leaves where moisture gets trapped. Wear light-colored clothing, long sleeves, pants and closed shoes. Use insect repellent and keep hair tied back or tucked into a hat.

Mosquitoes: A bite from these pesky insects is red and itchy, but can also carry a far greater risk. Mosquitoes can spread viruses and infections such as Zika, West Nile virus and Dengue fever. The best ways to avoid getting bitten are to use insect repellent, wear long clothing, keep mosquitoes from getting inside the house (use air conditioning and repair window screens) and to remove areas of standing water outdoors where mosquitoes breed.

Bees, wasps and hornets: Thankfully, getting stung from one of these insects typically doesn't transmit serious disease, but it is painful and can cause a dangerous allergic reaction. Most of the time, bees, wasps and hornets won't bother you unless provoked. But it's best to avoid their hives and nests, which they often build in trees, under roof eaves and attached to outdoor furniture. If you are stung, remove the stinger by scraping a fingernail across it (never squeeze) and apply ice to reduce swelling. Anyone who is stung should also be monitored to ensure they don't have an allergic reaction.

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Date Last Reviewed: March 5, 2020
Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor
Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD
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