Bites and stings can lead to other things
Physicians offer summer health advice to avoid the diseases carried by ticks and mosquitoes.
For many people, bug bites and stings aren’t a big deal beyond a small irritation. But for some, it could mean the start of a painful — possibly long-term or even deadly — illness.
Despite their size, ticks and mosquitos can pack a wallop through Lyme Disease and West Nile Virus, among other diseases.
Physicians are urging that people take precautions before hitting the outdoors this summer, and know what to do when bitten or stung.
“The old saying ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’ really holds true when it comes to bites and stings,” says Karen Rizzo, MD, president of the Pennsylvania Medical Society. “Simple things like checking yourself for bugs and wearing bug spray can make a difference in the long run.”
The tick threat
Of all insects, ticks raise the greatest concern. New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania are among the top 20 percent locations in the nation for the prevalence tick-borne illness, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Pennsylvania Physician General Rachel Levine offers the following precautions:
Avoid tick infested areas.
Wear protective clothing.
Use insect repellent.
Do a full body check after spending time outdoors.
“If an individual develops signs and symptoms of Lyme disease after a tick bite, we urge them to seek medical attention,” Dr. Levine says. “Early diagnosis and treatment of Lyme disease may prevent late-stage complications.”
According to Paul Killian, MD, president of the Pennsylvania Rheumatology Society, early symptoms within the first 30 days of a tick bite could include a red and expanding rash, fatigue, chills, fever, headache, muscle and joint aches, and swollen lymph nodes.
“This is something you want to catch early,” he said. “A large percentage of patients who go untreated tend to face bouts of arthritis, including severe joint pain and swelling. A small percentage may even develop chronic neurological issues such as shooting pain, numbness, or tingling in the hands or feet.”
Mosquitoes transmit disease
Mosquitoes use their mouthparts to puncture human skin and feast on blood. Most mosquito bites do little harm, maybe leaving the puncture area swollen, sore, and red.
However, if the mosquito is carrying a virus or parasite, the victim could experience severe illness.
“Mosquitoes, particularly those in tropical environments, have been linked to some nasty illnesses including yellow fever and malaria,” says G. Alan Yeasted, MD, president of the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American College of Physicians. “Here in Pennsylvania, we don’t see a lot of those diseases. Instead, we more often will associate mosquitoes with West Nile Virus.”
West Nile virus first appeared in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania in 2000, on birds and mosquitoes. Typically, West Nile is a mild disease that mimics the flu and lasts only a few days. However, some cases — about one in 150 — can be severe, causing encephalitis, convulsions, paralysis, or death.
One of the keys in the fight against West Nile Virus is to make it difficult for mosquitoes to breed. Property owners play an important role. Mosquitoes tend to enjoy stagnant water. Eliminating stagnant water from wading pools, clogged gutters, and other locations helps.
But it can be tough to totally avoid mosquitoes. The Centers for Disease Control recommends the following:
Use screens on windows and doors. Repair holes in screens to keep mosquitoes out.
Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants when outdoors.
When outdoors use mosquito repellent with an active ingredient like DEET, Picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or para-menthane-diol (PMD), or 2-undecanone