Spring and summer are coming, and along with the change of season comes a horde of bugs and outdoor lovers. For many people who see summer as a time to enjoy nature, it also means exposing skin to a host of bugs. While most insects are harmless, some can carry dangerous diseases. So how could you enjoy your outdoor vacation without annoying bugs? The best method is to recognize the dangerous from the harmless.
A bite on the lips can be the proverbial kiss of death. Kissing bugs are known to spread Trypanosoma cruzi, a parasite that causes Chagas disease. According to the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) estimates, more than 8 million people in the world contract the disease every year — with an estimated 300,000 cases in the U.S. An individual infected with Chagas disease can experience flu-like symptoms like fever, fatigue, and body aches — with accompanying bouts of vomiting and visible rashes.
More serious cases can lead to heart problems and gastrointestinal diseases. Kissing bugs are cone-nosed bugs that are about the size of a penny. Most are black or brown, with red, tan, or yellow markings on their abdomens. Kissing bugs feed on blood and usually prefer to bite sleeping humans around the eyes and mouth. These bugs usually make their nest outdoors, but they can get inside the house through vents or open windows. Lights can attract them, so keep your doors and windows closed before turning them on.
Bedbugs are also known to spread Chagas disease. They thrive in urban environments, and many residents are constantly plagued by these bugs. Bedbugs feed on blood, mostly on sleeping humans. They can easily spread from person to person, especially in urban centers. Bedbug bites often lead to skin irritation and sometimes infection. Their constant nightly feeding can cause insomnia, depression, anxiety attacks, and psychosis. Bedbugs make their nests inside houses, and one or two bedbugs hitching a ride on your clothes can lead to a full-blown infestation in just two to ; three months. Their bites will often leave tiny blood droplets on your pillows or sheets.
Once you smell the scent of musk or coriander, then your bedroom is fully infested. The coriander-like scent comes from bedbug sweat and pheromones — and it would take hundreds of them for the scent to be noticeable. Bedbugs are resilient, and normal bug sprays won’t do any good. Getting rid of them will require professional pest control services. Heat treatments are the preferred method of getting rid of them as it leaves no chemical residues.
If you’ve watched a few episodes of House M.D., you’ve probably noticed Lyme disease gets thrown around a lot. Lyme disease usually spreads from tick bites, but these bugs are also known to spread Rocky Mountain fever, Colorado Tick fever, Powassan virus, and many other diseases. An undetected burrowed tick can also cause paralysis or even death. Although ticks are more of a pet problem, they will occasionally bite humans.
Tick bites can be nasty as they burrow into your skin — sometimes requiring tweezers to get them out. Utah’s outdoor culture makes tick bites quite common. Ticks are usually found in fields or forested areas. Hiking in the woods can earn you a bite or two, so make sure you cover up your skin — particularly your ankles. Full-body checks after each hike can ensure none of these bugs (actually arachnids) has burrowed into your flesh. Insect repellent with DEET can also keep ticks away.
Mosquito bites can spread malaria, dengue fever, yellow fever, and a host of other deadly diseases. Fortunately, most of these diseases are rare in Utah. Of course, it’s better to err on the side of caution — and mosquito bites can be irritating. Aside from the usual itching, mosquito bites can become infected — leading to swelling or redness in the affected areas, hives, swollen lymph nodes, and varying degrees of fever. Mosquitoes lay their eggs in stagnant water, so make sure your surroundings are clear of them. If you’re taking trips outside, use topical repellents to keep mosquitoes away.
Flies bring a host of diseases like cholera, dysentery, and typhoid — as well as another 200 types of bacteria in their bodies. Dirt, fecal matter, and all sorts of garbage stick to their legs and immediately contaminate everything they land on. Flies will also vomit on their food before eating it, using their digestive juices to soften food in order to consume it. Basic sanitation can control fly populations, so make sure your surroundings are free from exposed garbage or other types of organic matter.
Some bugs are just bugs — while others are disease-carrying pests. Note what bugs can be dangerous and take measures to limit your exposure or get rid of them entirely.