Keeping Safe From Bug-Borne Illnesses It’s no secret that more time outdoors means a greater exposure to biting bugs. Your risk for contracting a bug-borne illness depends on where you live and the time of year. But recent reports indicate that the U.S. will break some records this year, and not the fun kind.

What’s biting right now: Mosquitoes

This spring, the U.S. reported locally-acquired cases of malaria for the first time in 20 years. In response, the CDC issued a public health advisory about malaria risk.

Mosquitoes can spread viruses or parasites through a bite. But according to Michael Russo, MD, a specialist in pediatric infectious diseases at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), not every person or animal bitten by an infected mosquito will get sick. “Thankfully, symptomatic mosquito-borne infections are rare in children in the continental U.S., particularly in this part of the country.”

More ticks mean more tick bites

Mild winters and warm springs have put 2023 on track to be the worst-ever year for ticks, particularly in the Northeast. The most common tick-borne illness is Lyme disease, spread by the deer tick. Pennsylvania has one of the highest incidences of Lyme disease of any U.S. state. Much less common tick-borne diseases include Rocky Mountain spotted fever, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, anaplasmosis and tularemia.

What if your child is bitten by a tick? “Don’t panic,” says Dr. Russo. “Most tick bites don’t lead to infections.” If you remove a tick within 36 hours of the bite, your child has a minimal chance of getting sick. Daily tick checks can be quite effective. Pay special attention to the hairline, behind the ears, under the arms, around the waist, between the legs and behind the knees.

To remove a tick attached to the skin, remove it with tweezers by grabbing near the head and pulling upward gently. Then flush it down the toilet. Taking a picture of it on your phone can help identify it if you need to seek medical care. After removal, clean the bite with warm water and apply rubbing alcohol to help reduce any irritation that follows.

If a tick bite escapes notice for more than 36 hours, watch for signs of infection after removal. Signs of Lyme disease or other tick-borne illnesses typically appear a few days to two weeks after the bite. Symptoms common to tick-borne disease include:

  • A rash spreading out from the area of the bite
  • Fever with headache and/or joint and muscle pains
  • A large swollen and stiff joint (which occurs weeks to months after the bite)

Above all, says Dr. Russo, know that “Lyme disease and other tick-borne infections are easily and effectively treated with antibiotics.”

The best prevention against insect-borne diseases? Don’t get bitten

This doesn’t mean you have to avoid going outdoors. Dr. Russo says that prevention and education are the keys to avoiding complications from an insect bite, so brush up on the facts and enjoy your time outside safely!

  • Use an EPA-registered insect repellent. Repellent with 20%-30% DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) is the most effective and is safe for children 2 months and older, as well as pregnant and breastfeeding people.
  • 20% Picaridin is less greasy, has a more pleasant smell than DEET, and works almost as well, but must be applied more frequently.
  • Lower concentrations than these can be less effective.
  • Essential oils are ineffective at preventing bites.
  • If you’re wearing sunscreen and repellent together, apply the sunscreen first and then apply repellent.
  • Don’t apply repellent under clothes – only apply to exposed skin and clothing.
  • Loose-fitting, full-coverage clothes treated with 0.5% Permethrin are extremely effective at keeping bugs away when used in combination with DEET- or Picaridin-based repellants on exposed skin. (Do not apply Permethrin directly to the skin.)
  • Cover baby strollers and carriers with mosquito netting.
  • If tick bites are a concern in your area, wear light-colored long sleeves and long pants. Tuck your pants into your socks. When you come back inside do a thorough tick check, looking behind the ears, along the hair and waistline, and behind the knees.

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