Don't be Bugged this Summer

Warm weather's return revives concerns about zika virus and other insect-borne illnesses.



The advent of warm weather brings many welcome treats. But insects aren’t one of them. More than just annoying, mosquitoes and ticks carry bugs of their own, like the viruses and bacteria that cause Zika, West Nile, Lyme and other diseases.

According to David Alcid, M.D., adult infectious disease specialist at Saint Peter’s University Hospital, ticks in our neck of the woods carry four potentially serious diseases: Lyme, babesiosis, anaplasmosis and ehrlichiosis. Zika, West Nile and a form of encephalitis are the primary mosquito-borne illnesses. Symptoms for these range from none at all to flu-like. Complications, however, can be long-lasting and in some cases potentially fatal. But don’t let that keep you locked indoors all summer.

“People shouldn’t be fearful,” Dr. Alcid says. “There are ways to defend against these things, so there is no reason to be afraid. Just know what you’re doing and you should be fine.”

Prevention is job one. While it is not possible to guarantee full protection, it is relatively easy to keep bug bites at a minimum. With ticks, that means avoiding the grassy and wooded areas in which they live. When you do venture into the woods, wear long pants tucked into your shoes, long-sleeve shirts and hats to keep skin covered. Light colors are recommended because they make it easier to spot tiny ticks should they stick on clothing. Insect repellant containing DEET (the chemical N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide) also helps, though DEET should not be applied to children. Finally, do a thorough body inspection after any time spent in tick-friendly areas.

“Ticks need to be embedded for long periods, 36 to 48 hours sometimes, before they transmit disease,” says Peter Wenger, M.D., pediatric infectious disease specialist at The Children’s Hospital at Saint Peter’s University Hospital. “So if you spot them crawling around, you have time to get rid of them.”

Check children, too, behind the ears and under hair, Dr. Alcid adds. “Ticks are tiny. They can be mistaken for a mole, so know your moles to differentiate them from ticks.”

The same measures apply to mosquito prevention, along with avoiding brightly colored clothing, which mosquitoes find attractive, and scented perfumes and body washes, which they consider delicious. Also try to prevent the bugs from breeding on your property by removing any standing water from rain gutters and barrels, old tires, buckets, toys, bird baths, or any other container where mosquitoes lay their eggs. When indoors, keep windows and doors closed or securely screened.

To find out more about services available for you or your family at Saint Peter's University Hospital, please call 732.745.8600 or visit saintpetershcs.com.

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