How to Protect Yourself from Seven Summer Bugs
(NEW YORK) -- With summer in full swing, you're at risk for a sting. While some insect stings and bites are an itchy nuisance, others can have painful and even deadly consequences. Learn how to protect yourself from seven summer bugs and the diseases they might be carrying.
It isn't bad enough that many species of ticks found in Northeastern states spread Lyme disease -- a bacterial infection that can have lasting effects on the joints, heart and nervous system. They may also harbor the heartland virus.
Scientists from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have confirmed that the virus, discovered in 2009 when it landed two Missouri men in hospital with flu-like symptoms, is spread by the tiny insects. The virus is rare, though, carried by 10 of some 56,428 ticks studied.
Ticks can also carry Babesia microti, a parasite that destroys red blood cells, causing anemia. Symptoms of the parasitic infection, known as babesiosis, include fever, muscle cramps and headaches. In 2011, about 1,100 cases were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, compared to roughly 30,000 cases of Lyme disease that same year.
The CDC recommends taking the following steps to prevent tick bites:
- Avoid wooded and bushy areas.
- Walk in the center of trails; Use bug repellents that contain 20 percent or more Deet on the skin.
- Use bug repellants that contain permethrin on clothing.
- Shower as soon as possible after coming indoors.
- Look for ticks on your body, especially under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist and in the hair.
Africanized killer bees
Earlier this summer, a Texas man was attacked and killed by a swarm of more than 40,000 bees after he drove his tractor into a pile of wood that concealed their hive.
The bees that killed him aren't the friendly, happy European honey bees we know and love. As James Fredericks, the director of technical services for the National Pest Management Association, explained it, the killers are a product of a scientific experiment gone wrong.
"In the 1950s a Brazilian scientist imported bees from Africa to breed with our honey bees in hopes of upping production and creating a more docile insect," he said. "Obviously, it didn't work out that way."
The bees are now a serious threat in warmer states like California, Texas and Florida. Besides being extremely aggressive, they often attack with an element of surprise from a hive hidden underground, in a rotting log or behind a wall.
Fredericks also warned that most people can't tell the difference between a pleasant bee and a grumpy one, so best to steer clear of all bees unless they've been identified by a professional.
If attacked, run. If you can't find shelter, keep running. Cover your face and eyes and don't swat at them since it just makes them angrier. Don't jump into a pool either. They will hover over the surface and wait out your oxygen supply.
First Florida was invaded by giant pythons. Then it was giant snails. Now it's giant mosquitoes up to five times the size of the mere mortal pest.
Actually, these "new" mosquitoes are Florida natives, according to Fredericks.
"They're known as the shaggy-legged gallinipper, and they've always been around," he said.
Gallinippers are more abundant than usual this year thanks to a rainy spring. Females lay their eggs in shallow dirt divots that are likely to encounter flooding. When there is no rain, the eggs wait it out another season.
They're also nothing to get upset about since gallinippers are less nippy than many other mosquito species and aren't known to transmit West Nile or other diseases. Fredericks advised wearing a little insect repellent to keep them at bay.
The majority of ant species love nothing better than to follow the leader. Crazy ants run around frantically as if they're late and looking for their keys. Hence the name.
But the really crazy thing about crazy ants is their sheer numbers.
"There can be tens of thousands of individuals in some of the bigger colonies," noted Fredericks.
Although not entirely resistant to conventional insecticides, their nests are often so populous, they can overwhelm eradication efforts.
And one thing about this ant that drives homeowners especially crazy is their love of electronics. Fredericks said these tiny Caribbean invaders love nothing better than to set up shop inside electric housing and circuit boxes then chew through the wiring. They've been known to cause blackouts in Texas and the other Southeast and Gulf states where they reside.
For many, the thought of billions of insects laying dormant for nearly two decades and then suddenly bursting forth from the soil creeps the heck out of them. But experts insist periodic cicadas and their yearly cousins are as harmless as kittens.
"They're wonderful. Their song is the music of summer," said Richard Pollack, an entomologist who is the president and chief scientific officer of IdentifyUS in Boston, referring to the cicada's mating call, which can be as loud as a lawnmower or power tool.
Pollack said that cicadas never harm a soul that isn't a tree, though he admitted they've been known to cause a car accident or two by zooming into a windshield. He advised against treating homes and gardens with insecticides to repel them since the chemicals used are usually more harmful to people, pets and wildlife than the insect could ever be.
Most ants wish to coexist peacefully with us. Not fire ants. As the jerks of the insect world, this South American invasion species attack en masse any time someone wanders too close to their nest, or simply because they feel like it. Each one of these tiny terrorists bites their unfortunate victim to get a grip, then repeatedly administers painful, blistering stings in a circular pattern.
Fire ants have been terrorizing gardeners in the Southeastern and South Central United States for decades. More recently they've hitchhiked their way as far west as California and as far north as Kansas and Maryland. Experts say their numbers are exploding due to warming temperatures and because most predators fear them. Unfortunately they are virtually indistinguishable from many pacifist species until they swarm, and by then it's too late to escape.
If you encounter a gang of these myrmecological bullies, the Texas Imported Fire Ant Research and Management project recommends running away while brushing off as many of them as possible. Clothing and shoes sprayed with insect repellent may hold off an attack, at least temporarily. Ice up stings immediately and if you develop swelling, pustules or some other type of severe or allergic reaction, seek medical treatment immediately.
If you see a cloud of insects hovering over a hole in the lawn, a hollow tree or a gap in a wall, proceed with caution. If they are chubby and fuzzy, they're probably peace-loving ground bees that mean you no harm. However, if they are the sleek and shiny wasp known as the yellow jacket, it's best to steer clear.
"Eastern yellow jackets found in the Northeast are particularly pugnacious," said Steve Jacobs, an urban entomologist with the Penn State University entomology department. "They do love any excuse to defend their nest."
Some species of this wasp are present in nearly every state in the country. Populations, as well as sting rates, are on the rise, possibly due to global warming. Currently more than half a million people seek medical treatment for insect stings each year, according to the National Pest Management Association.
If you encounter some while gardening or mowing the lawn, run away. Fast. Fredericks says yellow jackets will come after you but usually won't chase you very far. If you do get stung, treat the area with ice and antiseptic. Seek medical attention for allergic reactions, such as trouble breathing and major swelling.
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