An abundance of rain – especially in California this past winter – has helped insects to flourish. While many insects pose no threat to us, some are cause for concern.
Dr. Mark Morocco, clinical professor of emergency medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, discusses what we need to know when it comes to insects, insect bites and when to be worried.
Mosquitos and ticks are the biggest worries at this time of year. Mosquitoes flourish in standing water, so look for and empty out standing water in backyard arrangements like flower pots, ponds, or bird feeders. Ticks live in leaves, grass and bushes, and “wake up” in the spring.
- Mosquitoes can transmit West Nile virus, which is not dangerous to healthy people but can be more serious for the elderly or for those with weakened immune systems, says Morocco. Most people who contract the virus will feel only a flu-like illness with achy muscles, mild fever, rash and headache that will resolve in a week or two with acetaminophen or ibuprofen to treat their symptoms. For the elderly and sick, West Nile can be much more serious, with symptoms like a stiff neck, altered behavior and high fever. If you have those symptoms, see your doctor immediately, go to an emergency room or call 911.
- Zika is primarily a concern for those who travel to Florida, Texas or tropical destinations. Of the more than 170 Zika infections reported in California, all were due to travel to places where active mosquito transmission is occurring. There have been no “home-grown” Zika cases in California, Morocco says.
- Lyme disease is the biggest concern, but ticks can carry a few other diseases as well. Most are easy to treat. If you find a tick on you and have flu-like symptoms or a rash, call a doctor, or seek urgent care.
- The Lyme disease rash resembles a bullseye: a red spot in the middle, surrounded by a ring of normal skin, surrounded by another red ring. If you see this rash, do a body check, looking especially close around places where clothes have an opening (e.g. ankles, wrists, neck line) or hard to reach spots (e.g. your back).
- If you see a tick on your body, remove it like a splinter: grab close to the skin with tweezers and pull gently straight back away from the end attached to you. Untreated Lyme disease or other tick illnesses can cause long-term problems. Wear protective clothing, use DEET-based repellants and inspecting yourself and your pets after walks or camping, Morocco says.
What to be aware of with other insects:
- “Bee swarms seen in trees and on houses are best ignored; they are on the move and if left alone usually move on in a few hours, following the queen to a new nest. Keep yourself, pets and children away to avoid stings. Stings can be treated by using a credit card edge to ‘flick away’ the bee or the stinger and venom sack, Morocco says.
- “This time of year also brings lots of bugs you don’t need to worry about. Those giant silver dollar ‘mosquitoes’ are actually crane flies, and they’re harmless. Swarms of flying termites emerging from yards or trees won’t harm you but might eat at your house.”
Contact; Ryan Hatoum 310-267-8304 [email protected]
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