CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Summer is peak season for insect bites, which typically leave behind some itchy bumps that are bothersome for a few days before disappearing. Sometimes, though, insect bites can be more dangerous.
"Insects can carry vector-borne illnesses such as West Nile virus, Zika virus, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease," said Dr. Joseph McDermott of WellSpan Family Medicine - Mercersburg. "While not all insect bites will lead to these illnesses, some could. That's why it's important to proactively seek ways to limit bites."
He said people can by proactive by using an EPA-registered insect repellent containing DEET before going outside. Avoiding the outdoors during peak biting times such as dusk and dawn may also help reduce risk for mosquito bites.
People who spend time outdoors in wooded or grassy areas should 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. The insecticide permethrin also can be applied to clothing for added protection.
"You should also exercise caution after being in the woods or grassy areas and thoroughly inspect yourself for ticks afterward," Dr. McDermott said.
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.
Occasionally, a tick will be discovered embedded in the skin after spending time outdoors. Many times, however, ticks are not present during a skin check and their presence is instead indicated by a red bullseye.
"Although tick bites can occur even into hunting season, warm weather is when tick activity and the spread of Lyme disease peak," said Dr. McDermott.
He noted that 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."
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 from being bitten.
"As with any health issue, if you suspect you may have been bitten by a tick, contact your primary care office to schedule an appointment with your provider," said Dr. McDermott.
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 people avoid twisting or jerking the tick, which can cause parts of the tick's mouth to break off and remain in the skin.
- Cleanse 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.