5 Bug Bites to Know this Summer

September 5, 2013

Originally published on August 05, 2013

Summer in Georgia is a time for backyards, barbecues and, unfortunately, bugs, insects and other critters. These creatures' bites can be a nuisance, but they can also cause some serious health problems.

Rosmarie Kelly, Ph.D., public health entomologist at the Georgia Department of Public Health, told PHWEEK the five bites Georgians need to watch for this summer, and how to avoid them.

Fire Ants

Fire ants are aggressive, and their venomous, stinging bites cause red bumps that turn into white fluid-filled pustules. The bites are more than just ugly; some people can develop dangerous allergic reactions to them.

To avoid being bitten, Kelly said it's important to be aware of fire ant mounds, avoid stepping in them and try to keep them away from your house to avoid a fire ant invasion. There are pesticides that can treat fire ant mounds, but consumers should be sure to read their labels carefully before applying them.

If you do get bitten by fire ants, move away from the ant mound and, since fire ants grab the skin and sting multiple times, be sure to remove all ants from your skin. If you develop a more severe reaction, such as feeling faint or having trouble breathing, see a doctor immediately.

Mosquitoes

Mosquito bites are an itchy nuisance, but these insects can also carry diseases, such as West Nile virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis virus. The best way to avoid being bitten is to remember the five Ds of prevention:

  • Dusk/dawn - Mosquitoes typically bite at dusk and dawn, so try to avoid being outdoors at those times.
  • Dress - Wear loose-fitting, long-sleeved shirts and pants to reduce exposed skin.
  • Drain - Standing water is a mosquito's ideal breeding ground.  Dump any water-filled containers around your home.
  • Doors - Make sure the doors, windows and screens in your home fit well and are in good repair to keep mosquitoes out.
  • DEET - Wear insect repellant containing the chemical DEET, which is most effective against mosquitoes. 

Ticks

DEET-based insect repellant is also a good way to ward off ticks, which Kelly said have been very active in Georgia this year. Ticks are carriers of diseases like Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease, but at the very least, the saliva they inject when they bite can cause red, itchy bumps. In addition to DEET, Kelly advises Georgians venturing into tick-heavy areas to wear long sleeves, tuck their pant legs into their socks and spray their clothing with the repellant permenone.

"Always check your body for ticks after you come indoors," Kelly said. "If you have been bitten and you feel flu-like symptoms within 14 days, go see a doctor" and get tested for tick-borne diseases.

Bees and Hornets

Bees and hornets are actually beneficial for the environment, but their stings are painful and can cause an allergic reaction in some people. Kelly said it's best to just leave bees, hornets and their nests alone.

"When in doubt, just run away from them and keep on running," she said. "Only remove a nest if it's somewhere that you can't help but come in contact with."

And watch your feet; bees and hornets can nest on the ground, so avoid going barefoot outdoors.

Bed Bugs

Bed bugs aren't as big a problem in Georgia as in other areas of the U.S., Kelly said. But if you're taking a summer vacation, these critters are the last kind of souvenir you want to bring home. They don't carry any diseases, but they will bite and are extremely hard to get rid of.

"When you're staying in a hotel, don't put anything but yourself on the bed," Kelly said.

Keep your luggage on a luggage rack, off the floor and away from the walls. When you return home, take your clothes straight to the washing machine, and use the hottest water and dryer temperatures possible. It's also a good idea to vacuum out your luggage, Kelly said, to take care of any remaining bugs.

For more information about Georgia's insects, check out the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.

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