Don’t Let the Bugs Bite This Summer!
Bug bites are almost synonymous with summertime here in North Texas, and although bugs aren’t picky about who they feed on, children seem to get the brunt of the bites — which can definitely put a crimp in their summer vacation. Keep yourself and the kids protected from North Texas’ most common biting bugs, and if you do get bitten, learn how to properly treat it so you can get back to having fun this summer!
According to a nationally based pest control company, Dallas-Fort Worth is the eighth worst city in the country for mosquitos, which is concerning since mosquitos carry serious illnesses like West Nile virus, malaria, yellow fever, dengue fever, chikungunya and Zika virus. Although an itchy, sometimes painful, bump is a telltale sign of a mosquito bite, most people with West Nile and chikungunya will exhibit no symptoms making it hard to figure out if you need nothing more than an anti-itch cream or you need medical treatment.
If symptoms like fever, rash, severe headache, or muscle and/or joint pain do appear, they are usually so mild people don’t even bother going to the doctor. For a few, however, Zika and West Nile can have a lasting impact.
The primary concern with Zika is for pregnant women, as researchers have discovered an alarming and direct correlation between the virus and devastating fetal brain birth defects, including microcephaly, as well as miscarriage.
In the case of West Nile virus, the 20 percent of infected people that do exhibit symptoms may deal with fatigue and weakness that can last up to several months. Less than one percent of those infected with West Nile develop neurological illnesses, such as encephalitis or meningitis, which can lead to death.
Anyone experiencing any of the above-mentioned symptoms who knows he or she has been bitten by a mosquito should bring their condition to the attention of a physician.
As far as prevention goes, the three most important steps you can take to avoid the risk of being bitten is to think time, repellant and cover. Mosquitos love feeding at night (usually between dusk and dawn), so avoiding time outdoors during peak mosquito time can help reduce your risk.
If you must head outdoors, whether it’s during peak time or not, protecting yourself with an insect repellent containing one of the following active ingredients can keep the bugs away:
- Oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE)
- Pare-menthane-diol (PMD)
Although some ingredients have raised red flags regarding safety in the past few years, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proven that these ingredients are safe and effective, even for pregnant and breastfeeding women.
Of the many different species of ticks found throughout the world, only a select few bite and transmit disease. There are about seven human-biting species of ticks in the contiguous United States, and unfortunately for us, North Texas is home to four:
- American dog ticks – transmit Tularemia and Rocky Mountain spotted fever
- Blacklegged ticks – transmit Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis, babesiosis, Borrelia miyamotoi, and Powassan disease
- Brown dog ticks – transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever
- Lone star ticks – transmit ehrlichiosis, Heartland virus, tularemia, and STARI
The good news is that the number of Lyme disease cases in Texas is low, as well as the other diseases that ticks transmit. A tick will attach itself to the body and feed on blood, transmitting any illness it may carry in the process. But early removal of the tick can help prevent transmission of the diseases listed above.
If you spot an attached tick, use tweezers and rubber gloves, grab hold of the tick as close to the skin as you can get, and apply steady pressure to pull it away from the body. Do not twist or jerk the tick; this can leave the head or the mouth behind. Do not crush the tick, as the fluids can be infectious. To be cautious, make sure you flush the tick down the toilet instead of throwing it away.
After removal, thoroughly disinfect the area and wash hands with warm water and soap. Be on the lookout for a rash, muscle aches, fever, swollen lymph nodes, neck stiffness, nausea, weakness, a fever and a headache in the weeks following the bite and seek medical attention as soon as possible if you’re exhibiting any symptoms.
Ticks like to live in tall grass, in wood and leaf piles, along trees and in shrubs, so if you spend any time outdoors, it’s probably a good measure to check for ticks along your body.
Almost every Texan knows the pain of a fire ant bite and the telltale itchy, red bump that comes after.
Although the main symptom of a fire ant bite is pain (and that dreaded itch), some people may also experience flu-like symptoms such as fever, nausea, fatigue and body aches. In rare instances, you may even have a severe allergic reaction that causes symptoms like hives, cramping in your gut with nausea or diarrhea, tightness in your chest, trouble breathing, dizziness and swelling of your tongue or throat. If you exhibit any of these symptoms, call 911 right away and — as advised by a medical professional — administer an epinephrine shot if you have one.
Most people will experience a small, itchy lump, which usually goes down within an hour and may turn into a small, fluid-filled blister.
If you get bit by a fire ant, ice the bite 15 minutes on, 15 minutes off with an ice pack placed inside a towel so the ice doesn’t touch your skin directly. To reduce swelling, elevate the part of your body where you got bitten, take an antihistamine, and use a hydrocortisone cream to relieve itching.
To reduce your risk of getting bitten, be on the watch for fire ant nests, which look like piles of dirt, when you mow the lawn or work in your garden. Wearing socks and shoes when you walk outside and wearing gloves when you garden can also reduce your chance of getting bitten.
Texas is home to many spiders, but thankfully there are only two species that are considered dangerous — the black widow and the brown recluse.
The black widow can be identified by its jet-black color and its globular abdomen with a red or yellow hourglass shape in the underside. Black widows are frequently found in wood piles, boxes, outdoor toilets and meter boxes, under eaves, and in other undisturbed areas.
The brown recluse can be identified by its golden-brown color and dark brown to black fiddle-shaped pattern on their head. Brown recluse are usually found hiding in basements and garages, in between boards, boxes, and old towels or clothes in dark, undisturbed areas. Both spiders are non-aggressive and usually do not bite unless disturbed or threatened.
The venom of the black widow is a neurotoxin which can lead to severe nervous system reactions, and even death. Although the severity of a victim’s reaction to any spider bite depends on the area of the body bitten, the amount injected, the depth of the bite, and the age of the victim, among other factors, general black widow envenomization symptoms include:
- Abdominal cramping
- Abdominal rigidity
- Lesion at the site of the bite
- Profuse sweating
Brown recluse venom has necrotizing, or skin-eating, enzymes that generally cause local or nervous system reactions. General brown recluse envenomization symptoms include:
- Necrosis at the bite site
- Red, white and blue lesion at the bite site
Antivenom is only prescribed for black widow bites in extreme cases and there is no effective antivenom available for brown recluse bites. Since all spider bites have the potential for secondary infection, you should thoroughly wash the area with soap and water, or an antiseptic if available, and an ice pack can be placed on the bite to alleviate pain and swelling. If you were bitten on the arm or leg, keeping it raised can also help with swelling. If you can do it safely, try to trap the spider and take it with you to your doctor’s office or the hospital. Doing so can help your doctor be sure of the type of spider you were bitten by. If you can’t catch the spider, taking a picture or giving a detailed description can also help.
Many spider bites can be treated at home or in a doctor’s office, but if you display severe symptoms like extreme pain or difficulty breathing, get to the nearest emergency room right away. Since black widow bites can be fatal in children, you should take them to the emergency room as soon as possible if you suspect they were bitten.
Prevention is the best treatment for all spider bites. Eliminating or reducing bright outdoor lighting that attracts other insects (spiders’ food supply), trimming weeds and grass from around buildings and clearing brush, sealing outside openings that may allow spiders to enter the house, and shaking out shoes, clothes, towels and linens which have been stored and undisturbed for long periods of time can all prevent spider bites. You can also choose to have a professional apply pesticide around the perimeter of your home.
Bed bugs may seem like a fictional character from a lullaby, but they’re very real. Dallas-Fort Worth is actually one of the top 10 cities in the United States for bed bug infestations. With the kids heading off to summer camps and families traveling, summer can be a prime time to pick up some of these unexpected travelers and bring them home with you.
Thankfully bed bugs do not pose a health risk, but their bites can cause itchiness, redness, swelling and allergic reactions in some people, not to mention that trying to tackle an infestation can cause quite a bit of frustration.
Bed bugs feed on blood as their only source of nutrition. That being said, blood spots (fresh or dark) on one’s bed linens can be a telltale sign of a bed bug infestation, along with bed bug feces and shed casts. Bites commonly form around parts of the body that are more likely to be exposed during sleep, like the hands, neck, face, shoulders, legs and arms.
Bites are often grouped together in a small area and can occur in a line or a zigzag pattern. The bites normally look like small flat or raised areas that may become inflamed, itchy, red or blistered.
As mentioned before, bed bug bites do not pose a health risk, but scratching at their bites can cause an infection. Keeping bites clean and applying an anti-itch cream can help prevent this.
Bed bugs are notoriously small, and therefore a bit hard to detect, but they can usually be found close to where people spend much of their time sleeping, like mattresses, box springs, headboards, footboards, bed frames and other furniture that is within eight feet of the bed. They can also be found in cracks; floor, window and door moldings and where the carpet meets the wall. If you are traveling, always be sure to check your surroundings before you set your bags down.
The small but mighty flea can cause quite the uproar in your household if you have pets, but even if you don’t, your yard can become a welcoming home to the tiny bug. Flea bites often start as an itchy rash of tiny, sometimes bleeding, bumps in the armpits, around ankles or in the crease of a joint. The itching may be localized, but it can also spread and become severe.
Fleas generally do not pose any severe health risks for humans, but an infection can be caused by constantly scratching at bites and not keeping the area clean. Washing the area often with soap and water and applying anti-itch cream can prevent any infection as the bites heal.
Fleas prefer tall grass and shaded areas near decks, wood piles or storage buildings. Fleas also prefer to live on your pets, but they can branch out onto their beds and carpets. If you suspect an infestation, whether in your yard or your home, consulting with a pest control expert can help nip things in the bud.
Bees and wasps
Although these bugs don’t bite, their stings do add up to some of the most commonly seen injuries during the summer. Although painful, most bee and wasp stings can be treated at home, but if you have an allergy, epinephrine needs to be administered in time to reduce complications.
If you’re stung by a bee, the bee will leave a stinger behind. Do not use tweezers to remove the stinger, since this will cause more venom to enter the site. Instead, use a credit card or other flat, thin object to gently scrape the stinger out of the skin, making sure to scrape in the direction of the stinger. Applying ice can provide some mild relief, and taking an antihistamine can also help with the itching and swelling.
Like many of the bites listed above, stings do open the opportunity for an infection if not washed and cared for properly.
If you know you have an allergy, especially if you have had a severe reaction in the past, seek medical attention as soon as possible and administer an epinephrine shot immediately. Keeping two on hand can help if symptoms are not relieved after the first dose.
Symptoms of a severe allergic reaction include:
- Severe swelling of the face, lips or throat
- Hives or itching in areas of the body not affected by the sting
- Breathing difficulties, such as wheezing or gasping
- Sudden drop in blood pressure
- Loss of consciousness
- Nausea or vomiting
- Stomach cramp
- Weak or racing pulse
Summer in North Texas is a great time to head outdoors and enjoy everything that the area has to offer, but bug bites can put a damper on an otherwise fun outing. Use these tips to help prepare for any bites or stings you or your family may encounter so you can treat them properly and prevent any further complications.
Knowing where the nearest hospital is can help save time during an emergency. Find a Texas Health hospital or satellite emergency room located near you or where you are traveling throughout the region by visiting TexasHealth.com/services/emergency-departments.