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Home arrow Features arrow Outdoors arrow Bug off

Bug off

Be forewarned, though: Insect repellents, although effective at thwarting mosquitoes and other pests,  won’t work for everybody

Patti Burrows is a mosquito magnet, so she’s tried all sorts of things for keeping the bloodsuckers away.

“If there’s a mosquito in town, it will find me,” said Burrows, infection control nurse at St. Elizabeth Health Services.

And some people aren’t bothered at all by the obnoxious insects. The attraction, Burrows said, is all about your body chemistry.

"That’s just the way you are,” she said.

Aside from the annoying itch, a certain species of mosquito could transmit West Nile virus, a potentially serious illness.

But Burrows said fears about West Nile shouldn’t make you stay inside all summer just to avoid mosquitoes.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 80 percent of people infected with West Nile have no symptoms, and less than 20 percent have mild symptoms, such as fever, headache and nausea that can last from several days to a few weeks.

About one in 150 infected with West Nile develop a severe illness with these symptoms: high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis.

But as of June 30, “we haven’t had any cases of it at all,” Burrows said.

Only two cases have been diagnosed across the United States this year — one in Texas and one in South Dakota.

The best prevention is to avoid getting bitten at all, and you can find bug repellents in almost any store these days, but they won’t all work for everyone.

“Some of these work for some people, and some don’t,” she said.

Her choice is an Avon product that contains picaridin.

Another common repellent is DEET which, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, is safe for everyone except babies under two months old as long as the DEET concentration 30 percent or less.

Those percentages correspond to how long the repellent is considered effective. According to the CDC, a spray with 20 percent DEET should provide protection for four hours, while less than 5 percent will keep away the insects for about 1fi hours.

Another repellent Burrows recommends can be found in your laundry room — a sheet of scented fabric softener. Just rub it on your clothes or stick it in your pocket and it might keep the pests away.

If using sunscreen too, apply it first and then put on the insect repellent, which is designed to keep the bugs away with a scent.

If you do get a bite, Burrows suggests applying an ice cube, witch hazel, or calamine lotion.

But most of all: “Stop scratching.”

Also, you can take a proactive approach by eliminating any standing water around your house, which offers breeding grounds for mosquito larvae.

Burrows has a suggestion for livestock water tanks: put in a couple goldfish, which feed on the larvae.

But she isn’t terribly concerned about mosquitoes and West Nile — her worry lies with another bloodsucking insect.

“I’m more concerned about ticks,” she said.

Ticks can carry Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, the most severe tick-borne illness with symptoms of fever, nausea, vomiting, muscle pain, lack of appetite, severe headache and rash.

This illness has been a reportable disease since the 1920s, and the CDC reports that in the last 50 years, between 250 and 1,200 cases are reported annually.

Burrows said the recent wet weather is a boon for ticks, so she recommends a thorough self-check after you’ve been in tick country, mainly places with sagebrush or tall grass. Be sure to inspect your whole body, including your scalp.

“They’re very insidious little creatures,” Burrows said.

You can get Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever only by being bitten. Most ticks are found crawling on your clothes or skin, but if they are embedded, you need to squeeze the pest with tweezers as close to the head as possible, then twist as you pull it out.

Then wash your hands.

An embedded tick does not mean you’ll get the fever, but remember the tick bite in case symptoms do show up, as much as 12 days later. If you do feel sick, go to your doctor.

“You don’t want to let it go untreated,” Burrows said.

For more information about these illnesses, or to learn about pretty much any other illness, check out the CDC Web site, www.cdc.gov.

“It will probably tell you all you need to know about anything,” Burrows said.

 
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