We may all have our own opinions about which season is the best, but it’s hard to argue that summer isn’t awesome. There's the warm weather, all the fun water and beach activities, and so many opportunities for hiking, biking, camping, and other outdoor adventures.
Unfortunately summer can also feel a bit creepy-crawly, thanks to all the mosquitos, ticks, and other bugs joining in on our outdoor fun. Not only are these bugs a pain to deal with (think itchy and painful bites), some can even such as severe allergic reactions or chronic illnesses.
While this might sound like some pretty scary stuff, the good news is that insect bites rarely cause serious disease . Przybilla B, Rueff F. Deutsches Arzteblatt international. 2012 Mar;109(13):238-48. Plus, there are many simple things you can do to minimize risks. Follow this handy-dandy guide to know which bugs to watch out for, what issues they can cause, and how to reduce the chances of getting bitten, stung, or sick.
The Bugs to Watch Out For
Where You’ll Find Them: Bees and wasps are found across the U.S. and in all sorts of locations in the summer, from the woods to people’s homes. Bees in particular to bright clothing or sweet foods (so maybe choose neon or ice cream, not both.)
What to Watch Out for: In most cases, stings from these insects , including a sharp burning pain, redness, or some swelling. As much as four percent of people have severe allergic reactions to these stings and . Przybilla B, Rueff F. Deutsches Arzteblatt international. 2012 Mar;109(13):238-48..
Where You’ll Find Them: These are found in brushy, weedy, and grassy areas across much of the U.S.
What to Watch Out for: Chiggers bites, which often occur in areas with tender skin (e.g. ankles, backs of knees, and armpits) or where clothing restricts the bugs’ movement (e.g. areas covered by belts or elastic) can . Luckily, chiggers transmissible to humans in North America—so the biggest issue you’ll have to deal with is discomfort.
Where You’ll Find Them: There are , including black flies, deer flies, horse flies, and midges (Just to name a few!). Biting flies are present across the U.S. but are usually , where they lay their eggs.
What to Watch Out for: With the exception of mosquitoes (discussed below), biting flies and are only a nuisance. In rare cases, deer flies can transmit , a rare bacterial disease that results in a high fever. It’s , but can be treated effectively with antibiotics if caught early.
Where You’ll Find Them: Mosquitos always like to crash the party. They are found on the planet and are , where they breed. They’re at night and around dawn and dusk. Mosquitoes are also drawn to , so they might be more likely to bite if you’re active. And it’s not all in your (or your friend’s) imagination—some people to mosquitoes than others.
What to Watch Out for: Most mosquito bites often except for leaving itchy bumps and spots where the insects feed. But they do , including West Nile Virus, malaria, and some types of encephalitis. Recently, dengue fever and a disease called Chikungunya, which are not typically found in the continental United States, in Florida.
Where You’ll Find Them (besides your nightmares): Although most scorpions are harmless, the , which can be found in the southwestern U.S., has venom poisonous to humans. They are most likely to be found outdoors and also sometimes hide out indoors.
What to Watch Out for: Bites can be painful and cause some numbness or tingling. of a severe reaction include twitching, unusual movements, sweating, or altered blood pressure or heart rate. If these symptoms are present, .
Where You’ll Find Them: There are only a few kinds of spiders that are , especially black widow, brown recluse, and hobo spiders. As with scorpions, these spiders can be found both indoors and out and across North America. Fortunately and only look scary as heck.
What to Watch Out for: of bites needing medical attention include pain, blistering, or skin lesions at the site of the bite, as well as increased sweating, difficulty breathing, and fever.
Where You’ll Find Them: Ticks are small arachnids found ., particularly in , where they climb onto people and animals as they walk by.
What to Watch Out for: Ticks can , including Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, and anaplasmosis, which are spread by and are respectively more prevalent in different parts of the country. Lyme disease is now the in the United States.
Your Action Plan
Take a deep breath! None of the information above should scare you into staying indoors all summer—especially because there are tons of reasons why going outside is good for your health. Rather, take these steps to minimize your exposure to bugs and learn to recognize early symptoms of any possible diseases.
1. Bee less attractive.
Bees and wasps are attracted to , so cover foods and keep picnic areas clean. Also be aware that brightly colored clothing and perfumes or scented body products may attract them and other bugs as well.
2. Bee prepared.
For bee stings: Know the , which include hives or other skin reactions, difficulty breathing, or swelling of the throat and tongue. If any of these symptoms are present following a sting, it’s important to seek emergency services. It’s also helpful to carry epinephrine shots, such as an , whenever traveling with someone with a known allergy to bees.
For tick bites: Know the , which include fever, chills, aches and pains, and a rash visible at the site of the bite (In particular, bites associated with lyme disease sometimes produce a red, ). Go to a doctor if you experience fever, headache, muscle or joint pain, extreme fatigue, or other symptoms described above—these may be signs of an illness. Many tick-borne illnesses can be with antibiotics or other means, but earlier treatment is better.
For mosquitos: of these mosquito-transmitted illnesses generally include body and muscle aches, fever, headaches, fatigue, joint pain, and stiff neck. for mosquito-borne illnesses vary—medicine is available to treat malaria, while , encephalitis, and are caused by viruses and generally have to run their course, similar to the cold or flu.
For spiders: If you experience any of the reactions described above, try to , clean and ice the bite, and seek medical attention. Treatment will depend upon the type of spider and severity of the bite.
3. Play nice.
Don’t swat at bees, wasps, or other bugs—it will only make them defensive and ! Instead, calmly move away from their flight path.
4. Keep off the grass.
Some places have more bugs than others, so it may make sense (and be more enjoyable) to avoid particularly buggy areas. Ticks are , so it’s best to walk or run on trails that are mowed or less brushy . Mosquitoes breed in standing water, its best to avoid (or move quickly through) these habitats. Additionally, around the home—such as buckets or wheelbarrows—can help reduce their numbers.
5. Practice safe recreation: Always use protection.
One of the easiest ways to keep bugs away is to . It’s not always fun to wear extra clothing in the summer, but doing so can also help you minimize some impacts from sun damage. Try wearing shoes, pants, long-sleeved shirts, and other clothing to minimize exposed skin, tuck your pants into your socks (leg warmers, summer style), wear a hat (or a bandana tied over your head), and wear light-colored clothing so it’s easier to spot (and remove) any ticks or crawlies that try to hitch a ride.
When sleeping in areas with lots of mosquitos, consider to keep bugs away while you sleep. Likewise, during peak bug times. If out and about when mosquitos are most active, consider using a (It's fashionable and useful!).
6. Know basic first aid.
Treat mild bites with , such as washing or icing the bite, r, and using an over-the-counter pain reliever if needed.
7. Use repellents.
If avoiding bugs isn’t doing the trick, there are for repelling them.
- DEET is a widely used and effective insect repellent, but can be t. Although DEET has gotten a bit of a bad rap, it is and can be a reasonable choice when bug protection is needed. Products containing up to 30 percent DEET are generally considered safe for adult use and are often than other products.
- Natural botanical oils are found in many repellents, but t. Some—including lemongrass and thyme—may repel insects effectively . Deletre, E., Martin, T., Campagne, P., et al. PLoS ONE, 2013; 8(12): e82103., but . Not only do botanical products, such as citronella, clove, and lemongrass oil, vary in their effectiveness, but because they are not tested at the same level as chemicals, they may carry . The most effective botanical products generally contain oil of lemon eucalyptus, an extract of an Australian tree. It’s most active compound, para-methane 3-8, diol (PMD) can .
- Picaridin is another that mimics piperine, a natural compound produced by plants. Picardin has to DEET without , making it a good option to consider.
- Permethrin, an insecticide (not technically a repellent) that is naturally derived from chrysanthemum flowers, can be applied to tents or clothing to reduce bites from mosquitoes, flies, and ticks . Boulware, D.R., Beisang III, A.A. Wilderness and Environmental Medicine, 2005; 16(1): 9–15.00. Clothing treated with permethrin has been shown to .
When choosing a repellent, be sure to read the label. based upon the type of repellent, its concentration, and how often it’s reapplied. Also be aware that it’s more effective to apply sunscreen and repellent as two separate products: Put , then the repellent.
Life’s an Itch! The Takeaway
It’s pretty much impossible to avoid all bug bites, but the good news is that the vast majority are merely annoying. By knowing where pests like to hide out and taking steps to minimize with them (and knowing what to do in the event of a bite or sting), you’ll do a lot to preserve both your health and your sanity.
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