The weather is getting gorgeous and that means it’s time to get outdoors! As we head into summer, this is a wonderful time of year to connect with nature – whether that means hiking, camping, or just spending time on the beach. And, just when we’re ready to go out, so are the pesky biting insects! So, this month we’re talking about the best strategies to keep you and your family safe from ticks and mosquitoes on your outdoor adventures.
Lyme disease and related infections come from a type of tick called Ixodes scapularis, but they take a whole ecosystem to thrive, including mice and deer.1 After hatching in the spring, tick larvae have their first of only 2-3 “meals” in their life on white-footed mice, where they pick up the Lyme bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi and others such as Babesia, Bartonella, Ehrlichia, and Anaplasma. A year later, the adult nymphs are most likely to bite humans. Females require one last meal in their third spring, often from a deer, to lay eggs.
Tick bites can be hard to see. They’re often just a small dark bump, which may become red (like this picture), but you may not feel it or see it at all. If you develop a bull’s eye rash (like this picture), please call your doctor immediately – this likely means you have Lyme disease and should start antibiotics quickly. Lyme symptoms can be insidious, including migratory joint pains and swelling, dull headaches, poor mental energy, and significant fatigue. If you develop unexplained chronic symptoms, even if you don’t know you’ve had a tick bite, consider asking your doctor for a Lyme Western blot.
Mosquitoes can transmit West Nile Virus. However, West Nile Virus is 30 times less common than Lyme disease in the continental US, even though mosquito bites are much more common than tick bites.2 About 20% of people infected with West Nile Virus can get symptoms including headache, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea or rash. Generally, recovery is complete within weeks, though some people will have residual fatigue and weakness that can last for weeks or months.
Optimal bug bite treatment starts with prevention. Here are some of Dr. Morrison’s best tips for bug bite prevention:
- Stay covered when outdoors, particularly your legs and feet. Wear closed-toed shoes, long socks, and pants that synch tight or can tuck into your socks. Choose light colored clothes, so you can more easily spot a dark colored tick crawling on you! Ticks are even active in backyards and or neighborhood parks, not just out in the woods!
- Use natural insect repellents, which can be just as effective as DEET.3 Dr. Morrison recommends Tick Tock Naturals as a natural option that is safe to use directly on the skin! If you use a chemical insect repellent like DEET, apply it only to clothing. DEET is absorbed through the skin, and can disrupt hormones especially when used frequently.
- DesBio’s Bug Bouncer homeopathic formula can help relieve the symptoms of frequent bites from the inside out – call our supplement department to order. Despite popular myth, B vitamins have NOT been found to be effective as a systemic insect repellent.4
- Check yourself for ticks, once a day after being outside. They like to find warm, enclosed spaces, like your armpits, groin, nape of neck, behind the ears, back of knees, or your belly button!
If you do get bit, don’t fret! If you’re checking daily, you’ll catch it early. The sooner you remove the tick the lower your risk is for getting an infection. Here’s what to do:
- Remove the tick, carefully! We recommend using the O’tom Tick Twister.
- Identify the tick. Save the tick in a plastic bag or container and identify it using tickencounter.org.
- Test the tick. Order a kit from tickreport.com or tickcheck.com and send in your tick to check for diseases.
- Connect with your health care provider right away to consider prophylaxis or treatment options. Early treatment is important to prevent severe or prolonged infections. For a longer read on tick bite management, check out this review article from Dr. Cameron.
- Nguyen A, Mahaffy J, Vaidya NK. Modeling transmission dynamics of lyme disease: Multiple vectors, seasonality, and vector mobility. Infect Dis Model. 2019;4:28-43. doi:10.1016/j.idm.2019.03.001
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Am I at Risk? | Fight the Bite. Published April 10, 2023. Accessed April 18, 2023. https://www.cdc.gov/fight-the-bite/at-risk/index.html
- Selles SMA, Kouidri M, González MG, et al. Acaricidal and Repellent Effects of Essential Oils against Ticks: A Review. Pathog Basel Switz. 2021;10(11):1379. doi:10.3390/pathogens10111379
- Shelomi M. Thiamine (vitamin B1) as an insect repellent: a scoping review. Bull Entomol Res. 2022;112(4):431-440. doi:10.1017/S0007485321001176