According to a recent study, summer might actually be more stressful than winter—perhaps because it’s the time of year when ticks and mosquitoes are seemingly everywhere? And, scratch that “seemingly” because, unfortunately, illnesses spread by these pests are currently running rampant.
The number of Americans contracting diseases from mosquito, tick, and flea bites have more than tripled in recent years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports: Insect-borne illnesses saw an uptick (see what I did there?) from 27,000 a year in 2004 to 96,000 in 2016. And even worse, experts have identified nine pest-transmitted diseases in the United States that reportedly weren’t in the country before 2004. Though cases of tick-borne Lyme disease and Heartland virus as well as mosquito-borne dengue, chikungunya, and Zika are spreading, there are still ways you can protect yourself.
Here are 5 ways to stay safe from on-the-rise insect-borne diseases.
1. Wear layers—especially when you’re hiking
Since ticks prey in the woods, covering up when you’re hiking—even when it’s boiling-hot outside—is a must for staying protected. According to Dorothy Leland, director of communications for lymedisease.org, that means building a “protective shield around yourself” with long pants, long sleeves, shoes, socks that your pants can be tucked into so as to hide your ankles, a hat, and a bandana around your neck. And, don’t forget about your hair: Make sure it’s in a ponytail or a braid, especially if it’s long.
2. Spray on some permethrin
Spraying permethrin—an anti-parasite that’s used to treat head lice and scabies—on your sneakers can do wonders for fighting off ticks when you’re outdoors. “There are studies that show that just protecting your feet can do an amazing job against ticks because they tend to be low to the ground, so their entry point is that they often climb up on your shoes and keep going and get to your skin,” Leland says.
3. Use insect repellent
Insect repellent is an obvious solution and is oh-so necessary for fighting off mosquitoes and ticks. But you have to make sure you grab a certain kind: According to the CDC, when it comes to mosquitoes, only repellents that have DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE), para-menthane-diol (PMD), or 2-undecanone as an active ingredient will do the trick. But you might as well stick to either DEET, picaridin, or IR3535, as those are the only three that can protect you against ticks, too.
4. Shower and check for ticks
After spending time in the woods, the most important thing you can do is shower and scan your entire body for ticks, including your scalp and your private parts, says David Weber, MD. “Look in your clothes for ticks. Do a full body check by looking in a mirror, and check hidden spots: behind the knees, the waist area, the belly button. That’s where they like to hide,” he says. And as for your clothes? Toss them in the dryer on high heat, just in case there were any stragglers.
5. Use a fan when you lounge outside
When you simply want to sit outside and enjoy a nice day without worrying about getting eaten alive by mosquitoes, add an electric fan to the mix. According to the American Mosquito Control Association, “mosquitoes are relatively weak fliers, so placing a large fan on your deck can provide a low-tech solution.” Simply set it on the table next to where you’re hanging out, and watch the breeze not only blow them away but also send your scent—you know, the one that tells the pests that there’s a tasty feast nearby—elsewhere.
After mastering this checklist, start planning your summer trip to a national park. And, grab these 11 next-gen hiking essentials before you hit the trails.
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