VENTURE OUTSIDE during late summer or early fall and you are sure to come in contact with a wide variety of insects.
It makes no difference if you are working on tackle in the garage, wetting a line, pulling maintenance on deer stands or taking a leisurely stroll down a big city sidewalk. There are always going to be bugs to contend with, some of which bite or sting.
Although some insect bites will make you itch, others could lead to some nasty diseases such as Lyme disease and West Nile Virus or cause potentially dangerous that allergic reactions that warrant prompt medical attention.
Lyme disease is transmitted to humans and animals by tick bites. It is the most common tick-borne disease in the Northern Hemisphere.
Several types of ticks are prone to carry the disease. In Texas, the primary carrier is the blacklegged deer tick. The U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) lists findings of these ticks in dozens of Texas counties spanning all ecological regions of the state.
Often times, a human that is bitten by an infected tick will develop a bullseye-shaped rash around the bite. The disease can cause terminal arthritis and a host of neurological problems such as numbness, poor motor coordination, memory loss, difficulty with concentration and heart malfunction.
Although Lyme disease can usually be treated in a few weeks using antibiotics, it is best to avoid it if you can. Probably the best preventative measure is to avoid frequenting places where ticks live—a virtual impossibility for those who spend much time outdoors in Texas.
The next best line of defense is to use a good insect repellent such as Deep Woods OFF. Spray all your clothing liberally.
It is also a good idea to wear boots and seal off pants legs at the ankles by wrapping them with masking tape. This forces the ticks to crawl up the outside of your pants, thus increasing the chance of you seeing the tick before it bites you.
Always inspect yourself and your children thoroughly after visiting a suspect area. Look for ticks around the waistline, groin, base of the scalp, navel, armpits, head and behind the knees and ears.
In the event you are bitten by a tick, carefully remove it using tweezers. Grasp it as close to the head as possible and pull gently until the tick releases from the skin. Follow up by swabbing the bite with alcohol. Place the tick in a small container with a moist paper towel and store it in the refrigerator. If suspicious symptoms follow, the tick can then be tested to determine whether it was carrying a disease.
You should take similar precautions to avoid contracting another nasty illness called West Nile Virus, a potentially fatal disease that is transmitted to humans, birds, dogs, horses and other mammals by mosquitos.
The disease originated in Africa in 1937 and made its way to Texas around 2002. Between 2002 and 2011, there were 2,200 WNV cases involving humans reported statewide, according the U.S Center for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2012, a severe outbreak of 1,900 cases was reported in Texas.
Anyone bitten by an infected mosquito can contract West Nile, but some may never even know it. People beyond the age of 50, or those in poor health with weakened immune systems are the ones at highest risk. These groups might develop the most serious problems such as encephalitis or swelling of the brain; and meningitis, swollen tissue around the brain and spine.
I witnessed how debilitating the disease can be when my late brother-in-law, Don Dunavant, contracted it in 2006. His early symptoms were classic West Nile. It started out feeling like the flu—a persistent cough, achy muscles, stiff neck, headache and a low-grade fever that eventually escalated to extreme nausea and muscle fatigue.
Dunavant first visited a local clinic, where he was misdiagnosed with pneumonia. Days later, emergency crews carted him down the sidewalk and loaded him in an ambulance. Within 24 hours he was relying on a respirator to keep him alive. He eventually experienced some paralysis and never fully recovered before he died of esophageal cancer in 2010.
The best insect repellents to use against ticks, mosquitos and other biting insects are those that contain DEET. Different insect repellents contain varying levels of DEET, which can alter the longevity of protection.
Repellents that contain higher percentages of DEET will last significantly longer. OFF! Deep Woods Sportsmen contains 98.25 percent DEET and is advertised to last up to 10 hours.
Good insect repellents also provide some protection against chiggers, no-see-ums, flies and other biting bugs that can make life your life miserable. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to do much when it comes fending off wasps, yellow jackets and bees, which sometimes seem to attack for no apparent reason. The same could be said for fire ants.
Bites or stings from encounters with any of those insects can cause some reactions that are no fun to deal with. However, they typically are not serious unless anaphylaxis occurs, which is a severe allergic reaction.
Symptoms of such a reaction include difficulty breathing, skin hives, swelling of the face, throat or tongue, difficulty swallowing, a rapid pulse, dizziness or sharp drop in blood pressure. In severe cases a victim could experience shock, cardiac arrest or fall unconscious. It could turn fatal without prompt medical attention.
Another type of bug that nobody likes is spiders. Texas has a bunch of different kinds, but the two to avoid are the black widow and the brown recluse. Both are highly venomous and are found indoors and out throughout the state. Although neither spider is aggressive, they will bite when threatened. This sometimes causes severe systemic reactions that could warrant medical attention.
The best way to deal with insects that bite or sting is to avoid coming in contact with them whenever possible. You should take the necessary precautions avoid getting bit when in mixed company.
It’s their world out there. We’re just living in it.
The Bite Stuff
Tips for Avoiding Tick & Mosquito Bites
HERE ARE SOME THINGS you can do minimize the chance of being bitten by ticks and mosquitos:
• Tuck your pants leg into your socks and your shirt into your pants. This precaution will help keep them outside your clothes where they can be picked off before they bite.
• Wear light colored clothing. Dark ticks are more easily spotted against a light background.
• Inspect clothes often for ticks. Have a companion inspect your back.
• Apply repellents according to label instructions. Applying directly to clothing is most effective.
• Inspect your body thoroughly when you get in from the field. Have a companion inspect your back, or use a mirror.
• Inspect your children at least once daily for ticks. When in heavily infested areas, inspect your children every three to four hours.
• When you’re hiking, stay in the middle of trails.
• Mosquitos are most active late in the evening and early in the morning. Apply an insect repellent with a high DEET content when venturing outside.
• Empty the water out of buckets and other outside containers. These are kinds of places where mosquitos will breed.
—story by MATT WILLIAMS