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In Summertime, the Livin' Can Be Buggy

Physicians group offers advice on tick and mosquito bites,,

TUESDAY, June 23 (HealthDay News) -- It's nearly summer, which means millions of Americans will be picnicking in grassy fields and camping in the woods.

By all means, go out and enjoy the weather, says the American College of Emergency Physicians. But keep in mind that spending more time outdoors puts you at risk of getting bitten by mosquitoes and ticks.

"The bite itself may be nothing more than a minor annoyance," said Dr. Nick Jouriles, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians, in a news release. "It's the disease that insects carry that can become a serious medical problem."

Ticks can carry Lyme disease, which is caused by one of three species of bacteria belonging to the genus Borrelia. In 70 to 80 percent of cases, the first symptom is a bull's eye-shaped skin rash called erythema migrans, which shows up between three and 30 days after the bite, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Lyme disease can also cause fatigue, chills, fever, headache, muscle and joint aches, and swollen lymph nodes.

Though highly treatable with antibiotics when caught early, left untreated, Lyme disease can spread to other parts of the body, causing debilitating problems such as severe headaches and neck stiffness from meningitis, shooting pains, heart palpitations, dizziness and joint swelling.

Ticks can also carry Rocky Mountain spotted fever, which is caused by the bacteria Rickettsia rickettsii. Though not as common as Lyme disease, it can be more severe, according to the American College of Emergency Physicians.

Symptoms can include sudden fever, headache, excessive sweating, severe muscle aches, weakness, nausea and vomiting, and a rash on the hands, feet, arms or ankles about five to 10 days after being bitten.

Rocky Mountain spotted fever is also treatable with antibiotics.

As protection, check regularly for ticks and shower after potential exposure.

If you've been bitten, remove the tick by pulling it straight up with tweezers or between your fingertips if tweezers are not available. If possible, store the tick in a sealed plastic bag in your freezer.

If you develop any symptoms, you and the tick should be tested for Lyme disease right away, experts recommend.

For the most part, mosquitoes are just a warm-weather nuisance, although some people can have a severe allergic reaction to bites and require emergency treatment.

Mosquitoes can also carry West Nile virus. About 80 percent of people who are infected with West Nile virus show no symptoms, but a few develop a high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis, according to the CDC.

Mosquitoes can also transmit encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain.

To protect against bites, wear insect repellent, especially at night. Repellents containing DEET are highly effective, but repellant used on children should contain no more than 10 percent DEET. Never put DEET on infants.

Other steps you can take include:

  • Staying inside at dusk and dawn, when mosquitoes are most active, or wearing long-sleeved pants and shirts when outside during those hours
  • Making sure window screens are in good condition
  • Avoid standing near stagnant pools of water, trash cans, and gardens where flowers are in bloom
  • Keeping food, drinks and garbage sealed

More information

The American College of Emergency Physicians Foundation has more on stings and bites.

-- Jennifer Thomas

SOURCE: American College of Emergency Physicians, news release, June 11, 2009

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