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These Bugs Are Not Your Friends

Updated on April 28, 2014

Travelers beware!

Spring and summer insects can make your life miserable when hiking, canoeing, or simply trying to enjoy the outdoors. Some nasty insects may potentially kill you whether or not you travel to exotic countries. The followings are not necessarily seasonal critters, but humans are when it comes to shedding our layers and exposing our skin.

Of course, wearing insect repellents on your skin or on your clothes is an obvious choice when trekking woods, visiting lake areas, discovering tropical countries, or even simply standing in your backyard. Another way to avoid getting bitten is to wear long sleeves shirts and light pants to try to cover the maximum amount of skin, to let very little terrain for the bugs to bug you.

But that is no fun at the beach or anytime you want to enjoy wearing shorts and tank tops, let alone sunbath in the nude. Isn't that a bummer when warm weather finally arrives and you simply cannot remove your clothes just because of some tiny animals? Here are a few of the stinging pests you want to avoid, and what they can do to you:

-Kissing bugs: a vampire roach that crawls onto your face when you sleep and pierces the skin around the mouth to drink the blood. Carriers of the Chagas disease, found mostly in Latin America. Very few sleeping beauties suspect having been contaminated, until one day they develop heart damage related to the bites. A few cases have showed up in Texas. Cover your bed with a mosquito net, and spray it with repellent.

-Deer ticks: can transmit Lyme disease, causing rash, fever, fatigue, headache and arthritis-like symptoms, and can further lead to meningitis. Since very little can be done to treat the disease, preventing it is still the best course. I once visited a Buddhist monastery in upstate New York's Hudson Valley country setting, where every single resident nun and monk had the dreaded disease. In any wooded or grassy areas, wear maximum coverage clothing and amply spray your feet, your socks, and your shoes with DEET products, or oil of lemon eucalyptus to repel the ticks. A vaccine for humans was developed, but then pulled from the market in 2002.

-Mosquitoes: you think this familiar one is just a nuisance in hot and damp climates, but the stinging bugs can be carriers of encephalitis, St. Louis encephalitis, and West Nile virus, and transmit malaria in many countries. Eradicated in the U.S., West Nile virus in a serious threat which can result in death. Symptoms can include high fever, neck stiffness, disorientation, coma, convulsions, and paralysis. St. Louis encephalitis also causes fever and headache. Last reported in New Orleans in 1999, the Southern states are still at risk all year. Any standing body of water will attract mosquitoes, even a simple pail of still water will suffice for the breeding of the common mosquito.

-Sand flies: no diseases involved here, but my, can they be ignored when they practically ruin your Sunday sunning at the beach? Also called <strong>no-see-ums</strong>, because, well, we don't see them, they are present in any coastal areas, salt marshes, lagoons, beach, does not matter if it's ocean, gulf, or riverbanks sandbars. Even manage to annoy you on your beach towel. Nothing to do but leave, or stand them if you are a Zen master of patience.

-Killer bees: the African killer bees that look like common honey bees can chase a prey for up to a quarter of a mile. If you think you've hit a killer bee colony, dive into water or go inside any shelter as fast as your legs will take you. Some have been spotted in Texas, Arizona and California.

-Horse flies: not only annoying for horses, the black horse fly can attack through clothing to bite you with their powerful mandibles, a very painful experience. Mostly reported in Florida, any areas with swamps or low water can be infected. Tick repellents applied to the clothes can work well against them. And real horseback riders know better and always wear high boots.

-Fire ants: these ones are particular enemies of mine. I always dreamed of romantically walking barefoot in the grass, but it seems that many patches of the green carpet are host to the dreadful microscopic ants. It is however easy to spot the raised mounds where they reside. Up to 250,000 of them can live inside and when disturbed (by you) the fire ants will then swarm to the surface and fiercely devour your ankles and feet, creating intense burning and itching. Some people are highly allergic.

Kiss goodbye to your idyllic barefoot strolls at night if you want to avoid these ones!

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (cdc.gov) has recommendations on what to do against critters of all kinds. See also buginfo.com and webmd.com.

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