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Protect Yourself from Summer's Insect Pests (page 2 of 3)

by Suzanne DeJohn


In addition to the disease-carrying capacity of ticks, these bloodsuckers have the revolting trait of attaching themselves leechlike to your skin while they gorge on your blood. Unfortunately, ticks are also very common, as any dog owner will tell you. Ticks are not insects but rather arachnids, more akin to spiders than mosquitoes. The most common type of tick, the dog tick, doesn't transmit the infamous Lyme disease, though it can be a vector for the bacteria causing the much less common Rocky Mountain Spotted fever. Only about 500 to 800 cases of Rocky Mountain spotted fever are reported each year.

In contrast, 23,763 cases of Lyme Disease were reported in 2002. Lyme disease is caused by a bacterium and is transmitted to humans by the bite of infected blacklegged ticks, sometimes called deer ticks. These ticks are tiny, about the size of a sesame seed, much smaller than the more common dog tick. Lyme disease can cause a variety of symptoms, including rash, fatigue, chills, fever, headache, and muscle and joint aches. It can usually be treated with antibiotics if caught soon enough.

How can you protect yourself against ticks? Avoid known tick-infested areas. Understand their habits: Ticks make their way onto the edges of leaves and branches, then wait to hitch a ride on a passing host, so avoid brushing against vegetation. Some ticks, such as deer ticks, need moist environments to survive, so you're less likely to encounter them in dry, sunny areas. When hiking, stay to the middle of the path. Tuck your pant legs into your socks so that ticks cannot reach your skin. Keep lawns mowed, and remove debris and brush piles.

Perform daily tick checks, examining your and your children's bodies after spending time outdoors. If you find an attached tick, remove it promptly. Grasp the tick's mouthparts from the side with a fine tweezers and pull gently but steadily upward. Avoid crushing the tick. After removing the tick, disinfect the bite with rubbing alcohol. Inspect dogs and cats daily, too. Oral tick medications and tick collars can be helpful in managing ticks on pets.


More nuisance than health threat, fleas can nonetheless transmit typhus, cat scratch fever, and the above-mentioned plague, but the risk is negligible. However, the itching induced by flea bites can be maddening, and vigorous scratching can result in infection and scarring. Your best weapon in the battle against flea infestation is your trusty vacuum cleaner. Frequent vacuuming can dramatically reduce pest populations. Focus your attention on crevices and corners where fleas like to hide, and dispose of the bag outside immediately. Wash pet bedding in hot water at least weekly.

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