The WellSpan Spotlight

Itching for summer: what to know about summer insects and plants

Practice bug safety this summer

Summertime is a great time to lace up your hiking boots and take in South Central Pennsylvania’s great outdoors. But, while our region is home to many hiking trails, it is also home to ticks, mosquitoes, and plants that can make you very itchy. 

From the bugs to the plants, WellSpan’s Valerie Myers, CRNP of WellSpan Urgent Care offers some advice so you can hit the trails or your backyard safely. 

What’s the buzz about bugs?

While most insect bites leave behind some itchy bumps that are bothersome for a few days, sometimes insect bites can be more dangerous.

"Insects can carry illnesses such as West Nile virus, Zika virus, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and Lyme disease," said Myers. "While not all insect bites will lead to these illnesses, some could. That's why it's important to prevent bites when possible."

Prevent bites by: 

  • Using an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) - registered insect repellent containing DEET before going outside. 
  • Wear protective clothing like long-sleeved shirts, long pants, hats, and boots or closed-toe shoes when possible.
  • Additional protection can be provided by tucking shirts into pants and pants into socks.
  • Avoid mosquito bites by staying inside around dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active.

“Always inspect yourself for ticks after coming back inside from an afternoon in the woods,” added Myers. “When checking for ticks, focus on the hairline and hair, ears, under the arms, between the legs, around the waist, and the back of the knees.”

What do you do if you find a tick?

  • Remove the tick from your skin, using fine-tipped tweezers to grip the tick to steadily pull the tick upward. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends avoiding twisting or jerking the tick, which can cause parts of the tick's mouth to break off and remain in the skin.
  • Cleanse the area with warm water and soap or rubbing alcohol.
  • Don't crush a tick with your fingers to kill it. Instead, dispose of it by flushing it down the toilet, placing it in alcohol, or putting it in a sealed container.

"Although tick bites can occur even into hunting season, warm weather is when tick activity and the spread of Lyme disease is at its highest," said Myers.

While not all ticks carry Lyme disease, it's not worth the risk to go unprotected or forego a skin check after being outdoors.

"If left untreated, Lyme disease can cause severe arthritis, neurological problems, and even cardiac failure months or years after the initial infection,” she added.

In addition to a bullseye rash, flu-like symptoms such as fatigue, joint pain, muscle pain, fever, or chills indicate you may have been bitten by an infected tick. Symptoms typically appear between three and 30 days after being bitten.

"As with any health issue, if you suspect you may have been bitten by a tick, schedule an appointment with your provider or visit one of our many Urgent Care locations," said Myers.

The plants that make you itch

Poison ivy, oak, and sumac are found in most parts of the country and can cause an itchy rash caused by a sticky oil on the plant. 

The rash is an allergic reaction to the oil.  

“The good news is, most of the time the reaction is mild and can be treated at home with cool baths and calamine lotion,” explained Myers. “If you experience trouble breathing, swelling around the face, or develop large blisters, you should seek medical attention right away.” 

It is best to wear long pants, long sleeves, and closed shoes to help keep the oil from getting on your skin. Learn how to identify these plants so you can avoid them the next time you are out in the woods. 

If you think you have touched any of these plants: 

  • Wash your skin right away with soap and warm water. 
  • Use a brush to clean under your nails.
  • Wash any clothing or other items that may have the plant oil on them too.