What bothers you more about summer insects: annoying bites or the diseases that the bugs spread, such as Lyme and West Nile? For most people, diseases are more worrisome, according to a Consumer Reports survey. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shares that worry — especially for emerging threats such as chikungunya, which may be poised to spread quickly this season. Here are some smart steps to take:
West Nile, a virus that can cause fever, headache and joint pain, killed 85 people in the United States last year. Mosquitoes carrying the disease have been found in 47 states. Of the 2,492 cases of chikungunya reported in the continental states last year, only 11 — all in Florida — were from bites received in the United States; the others involved people who had been bitten in the Caribbean or elsewhere. None of the cases were fatal.
But chikungunya, which causes fever and joint pain, is raising alarms. To get West Nile, you must be bitten by a mosquito that previously bit an infected bird. However, mosquitoes can catch the chikungunya virus from one person and spread it to others. Also, the mosquitoes that spread West Nile bite mainly from dusk to dawn, while those that spread chikungunya prowl all day long. And about 20 percent of people infected with West Nile develop symptoms, compared with about 75 percent of those with chikungunya.
To avoid bites: Limit outdoor time, especially from dusk to dawn, when mosquitoes are most active, and avoid strongly scented products such as perfume and aftershave.
If you are bitten: Ease itching with an ice pack, hydrocortisone cream, calamine lotion or a dab of vinegar. See a doctor for fever, headache, body aches, nausea, swollen glands or rash. Take pain relievers and fever reducers to ease symptoms.
About 300,000 people get Lyme disease each year in the United States, mostly in the Northeast and Midwest. But it’s expanding, and doctors in new areas may be less familiar with the disease. Other tick-borne infections — anaplasmosis, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis and Rocky Mountain spotted fever — are found throughout the country.
To avoid bites: In woodsy or grassy areas, wear light-colored clothes to help spot the ticks, and dress in long pants, long-sleeved shirts, socks and closed-toe shoes. Tuck pants into socks and hair into a hat. Back home, throw clothes in the dryer on high heat for an hour. Shower with a washcloth and check for the poppy-seed-size insects. If you find one in your skin, pull out the body with a tweezer.
If you are bitten: See a doctor if you develop a bull’s-eye rash, or chills, fever, fatigue, headaches and muscle or joint pain. Antibiotics can stop the infection and prevent complications such as joint pain and facial paralysis (Lyme disease); difficulty breathing or bleeding disorders (ehrlichiosis); and heart, joint or kidney damage (Rocky Mountain spotted fever).
●Sawyer Fisherman’s Formula Picaridin. This product, which contains 20 percent picaridin, did better than all others in our tests, protecting against mosquitoes and ticks for more than eight hours.
●Repel Lemon Eucalyptus. Containing 30 percent oil of lemon eucalyptus, this product performed almost as well as the Sawyer against both mosquitoes and ticks.
●Repel Scented Family (15 percent DEET). DEET may pose health risks, especially in high concentrations and when used by children and older people. But this product has lower concentrations and still worked well in tests.
For further guidance, go to www.ConsumerReports.org/Health, where more detailed information, including CR’s ratings of prescription drugs, treatments, hospitals and healthy-living products, is available to subscribers.