The great outdoors beckons. Sunshine! Fresh air! Outdoor activities galore! What’s not to like? In a word: bugs. When warm weather arrives, biting and stinging insects can ruin the best hike or picnic. Fortunately, there’s plenty you can to do avoid trouble. Here are some of the most common pests and how to protect yourself.
Found mostly in the American Southeast, fire ants give a sting that causes intense burning, redness, and swelling. A pus-filled lesion may form.
To avoid trouble: Avoid fire ant nests, which are often mounds of soft soil. Wear boots and tuck pant legs into socks if walking in an infested area.
If you get stung: Seek emergency medical help if you develop chest pain, nausea, severe swelling, or other signs of a severe allergic reaction. Otherwise, a cold compress and corticosteroid anti-itch cream (Cortaid, Cortizone) can help relieve pain and itching.
More than annoying, mosquitoes can carry several serious diseases, including West Nile virus and Zika.
To avoid getting bitten: Eliminate standing water in the yard. Wear long-sleeve shirts and pants, especially at dusk. Apply insect repellent to exposed skin (see next slide). For more, see How to Prevent Mosquito Bites.
If you get bitten: Calamine lotion or a corticosteroid cream can ease the itch. Call your doctor if you develop aches, fever, headache, joint pain, or a rash—even weeks later, since mosquito-borne diseases can take that long to produce symptoms.
The CDC recommends using a repellent that contains DEET (10 to 50 percent concentration at most), picaridin, or oil of lemon eucalyptus on exposed skin. It also recommends the repellent permethrin, which can be sprayed on clothes, shoes, bed nets, or other equipment (it can't be used on skin). The CDC notes that picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus may not be as effective as DEET, which is sold under brand names including Off! and Cutter.
Chiggers are only 1/50 of an inch long, but their bite can cause intense itching and redness. They're drawn to tight areas, such as the groin, underarms, or under a belt.
To avoid getting bitten: Use a repellent that contains DEET and spray permethrin on clothes. Wear long pants tucked inside socks, and long sleeves.
To treat chigger bites: Wash the area with soap and water ASAP to remove attached larvae. Apply an anti-itch cream such as calamine lotion or hydrocortisone. Wash clothes in hot water or treat with permethrin.
Like tiny vampires, ticks bite and begin to suck blood. In the process, they can transmit any of more than a dozen serious diseases, including Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, babesiosis, and anaplasmosis.
To protect against tick bites: Wear long sleeves and long pants tucked into socks or boots when out in the woods or tall grass. Use an insect repellent containing DEET on your skin and permethrin on your clothes.
After outdoor activities, check your body all over for ticks. If you have children, check them from head to toe. If you discover a tick, use tweezers to grasp its body as close to your skin as possible. Pull gently and steadily upward. Thoroughly clean the area with rubbing alcohol or soap and water. Put the tick on a piece of clear tape and attach it to a piece of paper, in case a rash or fever develops within a few weeks, which could indicate Lyme disease. If you develop those symptoms, bring the tick with you to the doctor so it can be tested.
Found mainly in the South and West, black widows inject a potentially deadly neurotoxin when they bite. Symptoms include pain, muscle cramps, nausea, and fever.
If you think you've been bitten: Identify the spider if possible. Black widows have a red marking on their abdomens and leave two puncture marks when they bite. Wash the area, apply a cold cloth, and seek medical attention ASAP. Most cases can be treated with simple wound care and pain relievers. Ask if you also need a tetanus shot.
Also known as violin spiders, brown recluses are found mostly in the Midwest and South. The venom they inject can destroy skin tissue.
If you think you’ve been bitten: Stay calm. Identify the spider if possible, which will help doctors determine the best treatment. Wash the bite area with soap and water and seek medical attention immediately. Treatment may include a tetanus shot, wound care, pain relievers, and possibly the antibiotic Dapsone, to prevent skin death near the bite.
Wasps often build their nests in trees or under roof eaves. Disturbing one can spell trouble.
If you’ve been stung: Wash the site with soap and water. Remove the stinger by scraping a fingernail or the edge of a credit card over the area. Never squeeze the sting or use tweezers. To reduce swelling, wrap ice in a cloth and apply to the area. Swelling is usually mild and temporary. But if the lesion becomes large and red, you may have a bacterial infection. See a doctor. And seek emergency medical help if you develop chest pain, shortness of breath, or intense sweating, which could indicate a severe allergic reaction.
Also called biting midges or biting gnats, these tiny insects show up with warm weather. Fortunately, they’re only active for a couple of weeks in most places. But they can be very annoying. Their bite creates a small red dot that can sometimes grow into a welt the size of a quarter and be very itchy.
To avoid no see ums: Apply an insect repellent containing DEET. Wear long sleeves and long pants to minimize exposed skin. If you encounter a swarm, move past it as fast as you can.
If you get bitten: A cold compress and anti-itch cream can help ease itching.
Sweat bees get their name because they’re attracted to the moisture and salt on sweaty skin. They look like a smaller version of regular bees.
To avoid getting stung: Don’t slap at a sweat bee—it may sting. Instead, gently swipe it away with a sideways motion.
If you do get stung: Remove the stinger by scraping it with a fingernail or the edge of a credit card. Wash the area with soap and water. If you develop chest pain, shortness of breath, or intense sweating, you may be having a severe allergic reaction. Seek emergency medical help immediately.
Biting flies come in many varieties, including deer flies, snipe flies, buffalo gnats, sand flies, and black flies.
To avoid trouble: Steer clear of infested areas. Insect repellents aren’t effective, unfortunately. Some biting flies are attracted to dark colors, so wear light-colored clothing, including a light-colored hat that covers your ears.
If you get bitten: Get medical help right away if you develop symptoms such as shortness of breath or chest pain, which could indicate a severe allergic reaction. Otherwise, anti-itch cream or a cold compress can help relieve itching.