Spending time together outdoors is good for the whole family. Don't let bug bites and strings ruin your fun. Most bug bites and stings are harmless, but some mosquitoes and ticks carry diseases and stings can cause pain and irritation, and at worst, an allergic reaction. The good news is that you can take easy steps to protect yourself and your family from these outdoor pest.
You can take a number of steps to limit your exposure to mosquitoes and protect yourself from bites when mosquitoes are unavoidable.
Most insect repellent products applied to the skin contain one of three active ingredients:
- Picaridin (also called KBR 3023)
- Oil of lemon eucalyptus (a plant-based compound)
These repellents temporarily keep hungry mosquitoes from identifying you as a food source. The higher the concentration of DEET or picaridin in a product, the longer its protection will last. An application of a standard oil of lemon eucalyptus product protects you about as long as a product containing DEET at a low concentration.
Always follow product instructions. Parents should apply this product to their children, avoiding the hands, eyes, and mouth. For detailed information about using DEET on children, see recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Treat clothing and outdoor gear.
Permethrin is an insecticide and insect repellent recommended for use on clothing and outdoor equipment. You apply a permethrin product directly to the clothes and fabric-covered equipment you want to protect. Because many brands of permethrin-based insect repellent are available, check the product label for specific application instructions. Some sporting goods stores sell clothing pretreated with permethrin.
Wear protective clothing.
When you're in an area with lots of mosquitoes, wear:
- Long sleeves
- Long pants, possibly tucked into the tops of your socks
- Light colors
- A wide-brimmed hat to help protect your ears and the back of your neck
Reduce mosquitoes around your home.
Mosquitoes need standing water to breed. To keep your house and yard free of mosquito pools:
- Unclog roof gutters.
- Empty children's wading pools at least once a week, and preferably more often.
- Change water in birdbaths at least weekly.
- Get rid of old tires in your yard.
- Empty outdoor flower pots regularly or store them upside down so that they can't collect water.
- Drain your fire pit if water collects there.
Most people never notice their first mosquito bites. After being bitten several times, though, you're likely to start noticing, often almost immediately after the mosquito feeds. The signs include:
- A puffy, white bump that appears a few minutes after the bite
- A hard, itchy, reddish-brown bump, or multiple bumps, appearing a day or so after the bite or bites
- Swelling around bites
- Small blisters instead of hard bumps
- Dark spots that look like bruises
When to see a doctor.
Mosquitoes can act as reservoirs of diseases such as West Nile virus, malaria, yellow fever and dengue fever. The mosquito obtains a virus by biting an infected person or animal. Then, when biting you, the mosquito can transfer that virus or parasite to you through its saliva. West Nile and encephalitis viruses are found in the United States. Dengue fever, although it is rare, has been reported in the southeastern United States. Other diseases, such as malaria and yellow fever, are far more common in tropical areas of the world.
- You won't need to see your doctor for a mosquito bite. If mosquito bites seem to be associated with more-serious signs and symptoms — such as fever, headache and body aches — contact your doctor.
- If the itching is a problem, an over-the-counter antihistamine may help. Examples include diphenhydramine (Benadryl), chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimeton), loratadine (Claritin) and cetirizine (Zyrtec).
Also view Mosquito Bite Prevention (PDF) offered by Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department.
Reduce your chances of getting a tickborne disease by using repellents, checking for ticks, and showering after being outdoors. If you have a tick bite followed by a fever or rash, seek medical attention.
Before you go outdoors.
- Know where to expect ticks. Ticks live in moist and humid environments, particularly in or near wooded or grassy areas. You may come into contact with ticks during outdoor activities around your home or when walking through leaf litter or near shrubs. Always walk in the center of trails in order to avoid contact with ticks.
- Products containing permethrin kill ticks. Permethrin can be used to treat boots, clothing and camping gear and remain protective through several washings.
- Use a repellent with DEET on skin. Repellents containing 20% or more DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide) can protect up to several hours. Always follow product instructions. Parents should apply this product to their children, avoiding the hands, eyes, and mouth. For detailed information about using DEET on children, see recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
After you come indoors.
- Check your clothing for ticks. Ticks may be carried into the house on clothing. Any ticks that are found should be removed. Placing clothes into a dryer on high heat for at least an hour effectively kills ticks.
- Shower soon after being outdoors. Showering within two hours of coming indoors has been shown to reduce your risk of getting Lyme disease. Showering may help wash off unattached ticks and it is a good opportunity to do a tick check.
- Check your body for ticks after being outdoors. Conduct a full body check upon return from potentially tick-infested areas, which even includes your back yard. Use a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body. Check these parts of your body and your child's body for ticks:
- Under the arms
- In and around the ears
- Inside belly button
- Back of the knees
- In and around the hair
- Between the legs
- Around the waist
- Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin's surface as possible.
- Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don't twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers. If you are unable to remove the mouth easily with clean tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal.
- After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water.
- Dispose of a live tick by submersing it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet. Never crush a tick with your fingers.
- If you develop a rash or fever within several weeks of removing a tick, see your doctor. Be sure to tell the doctor about your recent tick bite, when the bite occurred, and where you most likely acquired the tick.
Avoid folklore remedies such as "painting" the tick with nail polish or petroleum jelly, or using heat to make the tick detach from the skin. Your goal is to remove the tick as quickly as possible–not waiting for it to detach.
Keep ticks away from your home.
Many types of ticks live in areas with woods, brush, or high grass. Animals, like dogs and deer, may also carry ticks in their fur. To help keep ticks away from your home:
- Clear brush, tall grasses, and fallen leaves from around your home. Mow the lawn often.
- Use wood chips or gravel to separate your patio or play equipment from wooded or brushy areas.
- Remove plants that attract deer, and put up a fence to keep deer out of your yard.
- Consider applying tick control products to your yard. You can do this yourself or hire a pest control company.
- Ask a vet for tick control medicine or tick collars for your pets. Dogs and cats need different tick control medicines, so make sure to get the right one.
Wasp, Hornet, and Bee Stings
It is important to know how to avoid being stung, now where to locate a first aid kit, adn help others who have been afflicted by an insect sting. Consider the following:
- Hornets, wasps, and bees are often attracted to flowery perfumes or soaps, so refrain from using fragrant products before going outside for long periods of time. Products that have a banana odor are particularly appealing to these insects.
- Lightly-colored clothes that cover as much skin as possible are best for avoiding bee stings and other attacks. Human sweat and oil can attract these insects, so be sure to wear clean clothes and bathe daily.
- Bees and hornets are attracted to the pollen that flowers produce, so it is a good idea to avoid working or playing near flowers whenever possible. Wasps, on the other hand, are predators, and they are attracted to garbage and the remains of human food. Make sure to clean up after meals to avoid attracting these pests.
- When attacked by bees, hornets, or wasps, get to safety as quickly as possible, as bees release a chemical that attracts other bees when they sting. Shaded areas are better for escaping these insects than open areas. If possible, run indoors and close the door. If you are driving and discover an insect inside, you should slowly stop the car and roll down all the windows to let it escape. Never jump in the water to avoid a swarm of bees or hornets, because some species may stay above the surface and continue to sting when you come up for air.
- The CDC estimates that around 100 people die each year from allergic reactions to bee, wasp, and hornet stings. People who know they have these allergies should carry an epinephrine auto injector (EpiPen) and a medical signifier, such as a bracelet, necklace, or card, that contains information about their condition whenever they are outdoors. If someone does get stung, have someone stay with them to watch for any allergic reactions.
Handling Bee and Wasp Stings
- A bee will usually leave behind a stinger attached to a venom sac. Try to remove it as quickly as possible using a scraping motion, without pinching the venom sac at the end. (Wasps don’t leave their stingers in the skin after stinging, which means they can sting more than once.)
- Wash the area carefully with soap and water. Do this two to three times a day until the skin is healed.
- Apply an ice pack wrapped in a cloth or a cold, wet washcloth for a few minutes.
- Give acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain.
- For pain and itching, give an over-the-counter oral antihistamine if your child’s doctor says it’s OK; follow dosage instructions for your child’s age and weight. You could also apply a corticosteroid cream or calamine lotion to the sting area.
- A sting anywhere in the mouth needs immediate medical attention because stings in oral mucous membranes can quickly cause severe swelling that may block airways.
- Seek medical care if you notice a large skin rash or swelling around the sting site, or if swelling or pain persists for more than 3 days, which could indicate an infection.
- The following signs may indicate a serious or potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. Use an epinephrine auto-injector if it’s available, and call 911 right away if you notice:
- wheezing or difficulty breathing
- tightness in throat or chest
- swelling of lips, tongue, or face
- dizziness or fainting
- nausea or vomiting
Sources: Center for Disease Control (www.cdc.org), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (www.healthfinder.gov), and the Mayo Clinic (www.mayoclinic.org)