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Health Aware: Fight back against summer’s biting bugs

Dr. Tina Bhargava is an internal medicine physician at Edward Medical GroupÕs office at 120 Spalding Drive on the campus of Edward Hospital in Naperville.  |  Submitted
Dr. Tina Bhargava is an internal medicine physician at Edward Medical GroupÕs office at 120 Spalding Drive on the campus of Edward Hospital in Naperville. | Submitted

Berries in season, outdoor concerts and dining al fresco. These and other summer pleasures can make the season a joy.

Not so true of the mosquitoes, ticks and other biting or stinging bugs that join us in the great outdoors.

The worst culprits are bugs that bring potentially serious diseases such as West Nile virus, St. Louis encephalitis and Lyme disease. Fortunately, these affect relatively few of us.

In 2012, mosquitoes infected 290 Illinoisans with West Nile, resulting in 12 deaths. Lyme disease, which is carried by deer ticks, is even rarer in Illinois. But hiking the woods of Wisconsin may call for extra caution — it has one of the highest Lyme disease infection rates in the country.

For most of us, the bugs of summer create a minor annoyance, in the form of itchy, swollen bumps.

Dr. Tina Bhargava, an internal medicine physician with Edward Medical Group, offers the following tips for keeping these pests from ruining your summer fun:

First line of defense: your skin. For the strongest protection, apply an insect repellent to your skin with at least a 20 percent concentration of DEET. Children’s formulas will contain a lower percentage. Apply products with permethrin to your clothing. Follow directions carefully when using any chemical repellents.

Pull back the welcome mat. Make your home and deck uninviting to bugs. Closing windows and keeping air conditioning on 24/7 provides the best indoor bug protection. If that doesn’t appeal, use fans and keep window screens in good repair. At least every five days empty any sources of standing water outside your house, such as saucers under container plants. These are favorite breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

Timing matters. Avoid dawn and dusk for outdoor activities. That’s when bugs are most active.

Show less skin. If you’re going outside at night, or headed to the woods or areas where ticks are common, forego the tank top, shorts and flip flops. Optimal bug protection means closed shoes, long sleeves and long pants tucked into your socks. If mosquitoes are the concern, consider clothing that’s specially treated to be mosquito-resistant.

What to do about bites and stings. If a tick comes on board, remove it steadily and carefully with tweezers. For mild reactions to any insect bite or sting, try cold packs, over-the-counter pain relievers, antihistamines or topical ointments for itch relief. Seek medical attention for more severe reactions to insect venom, such as cramps and diarrhea, or extensive swelling at the site. If symptoms include any of the following, call 911: difficulty breathing, swelling of lips or throat, faintness, dizziness, confusion, rapid heartbeat, hives or vomiting.

Dr. Bhargava is an internal medicine physician at Edward Medical Group’s office at 120 Spalding Drive, Suite 310, on the campus of Edward Hospital in Naperville. For more information and to schedule an appointment, call 630-527-5000. For more information about EMG, call 630-527-3641 or visit www.edwardmedicalgroup.org.

Health Aware is a weekly column courtesy of Edward Hospital

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