Protect Yourself Against These 15 Illnesses Spread Through Bug Bites

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Most bugs are harmless, but the small few that carry diseases can pose serious threats to even the healthiest of people. In some cases, one bite can forever alter a person’s life. Some bug-borne illnesses are worse than others, but in many cases, early detection is key to avoiding serious illness.

Quick Read:
Mosquitoes, ticks and fleas can transmit all kinds of nasty diseases. Mosquitoes can carry West Nile virus, La Crosse encephalitis and Dengue fever. Ticks can transmit Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Colorado tick fever, STARI, relapsing fever, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, anaplasmosis and tularemia. Fleas can give you the plague, typhus and bartonellosis. Know what to look out for after being bitten to protect yourself against serious and long-term complications from these fifteen diseases.

Get the Details on these 15 Illnesses Spread Through Bug Bites.

Mosquito-Borne Diseases

They’re the bane of every summer, sneaking in as soon as you crack open the screen door and crashing backyard barbeques. Their bites can be itchy and persistent, and some of them can carry disease. Here are the biggies to watch out for in the U.S.:

  • West Nile virus is the most common mosquito-borne illness in the continental U.S. Most people who catch it have no symptoms, but 1 in 5 develop flu-like symptoms with fatigue that can persist for months. About 1 in every 150 cases lead to inflammation in the brain or surrounding tissues, which can be deadly.
  • La Crosse encephalitis occurs mostly in the eastern U.S. states, but it’s been reported as far west as Texas. In most people, it causes fever, fatigue and vomiting. This can progress to severe neurological disease in rare cases, leading to changes in behavior or thinking, seizures and partial paralysis.
  • Dengue fever occurs across the U.S., with the bulk of cases being reported in California, Florida, New York and Washington. Only 1 in 4 infected people develops illness, which can become severe within hours. Symptoms often include rash, vomiting and extreme eye pain. Severe disease strikes about 1 in 20 cases and can lead to internal bleeding, shock and death.

Avoid these diseases by avoiding mosquito bites. Use an EPA-registered insect repellent, cover up where you can and keep tight-fitting screens on your doors and windows. If you can’t keep mosquitoes out of your home, sleep under a mosquito net.

Tick-Borne Diseases

Ticks are downright dirty creatures. Several U.S. species can carry a slew of terrible diseases. Here are the most common:

  • Lyme disease affects an estimated 300,000 people each year in the U.S. Spread by black-legged ticks, the disease causes headaches, rash and fatigue. If it goes untreated, it can lead to arthritis and nervous system involvement.
  • Rocky Mountain spotted fever presents with symptoms similar to Lyme disease, but it can be deadly if it isn’t treated quickly. It’s spread through dog and wood ticks.
  • Colorado tick fever causes chills, headache and body aches 1 day to 2 weeks after an infected tick bite. Some people experience vomiting, sore throat, abdominal pain and rash. Fatigue can linger for months. Most people recover without complications, but a rare few develop nervous system involvement.
  • Southern tick-related illness (STARI) is spread by the lone star tick. Its initial symptoms are similar to Lyme, but STARI isn’t known to progress to the joints or brain. It’s easily treated with antibiotics.
  • Tick-borne Relapsing fever is rare, usually limited to mountainous areas in the western U.S.. It causes a repeating pattern of high fever (usually 103 degrees Fahrenheit) for three days, followed by seven symptom-free days. The cycle may repeat numerous times if left untreated.
  • Babesiosis, carried by black-legged ticks, can cause chills, fever, headache and vomiting. It usually self-resolves after a few months, but it can lead to respiratory failure, organ failure or other life-threatening consequences. In those with weakened immune systems, the fatality rate is around 20 percent even with proper treatment.
  • Ehrlichiosis can be transmitted through black-legged and lone star ticks and begins as a flu-like illness. Some may notice a rash about five days after experiencing a fever. When left untreated, the disease can progress to the brain and other organs. Complications can include respiratory failure, organ failure, uncontrolled bleeding and death.
  • Anaplasmosis presents as a flu-like illness with a severe headache. Rarely, sufferers experience respiratory distress syndrome, which may result from secondary, opportunistic infections. Some people suffer neurological manifestations, such as facial palsy and peripheral neuropathy.
  • Tularemia can be spread by dog, wood and lone star ticks and often causes a high fever. When spread by a tick, the disease usually causes an ulcer at the site of the bite. Nearby lymph nodes are also likely to swell. Most people recover completely with proper antibiotic treatment. This disease can also be spread by deer flies.

To avoid these and other tick-borne diseases, steer clear of tall grass and other types of thick, heavy foliage. Use an EPA-registered insect repellent to keep ticks from attacking. Treat camping gear, boots and other items with permethrin for long-lasting protection.

When you get home after a trek outdoors, throw clothes in the dryer, check your body for ticks and shower to get rid of any that haven’t attached. If one has already embedded itself, clasp it as close to the head as you can with tweezers, pull it straight out and clean the area with alcohol. Don’t twist or jerk while you pull, as this may increase the chances of incomplete removal, and don’t crush the tick with your fingers, which can expose you to some diseases.

Flea-Borne Diseases

They can infest our furry friends and our homes alike, and their bites can be an itchy nightmare. Did you know they can also make you sick? Following are some of the diseases fleas can transmit:

  • The plague is alive and well in some regions, especially in southwestern states, infecting a few people each year during warmer months. Symptoms include sudden chills, fever, headache, weakness and at least one painfully swollen lymph node. Untreated cases can lead to septicemia, which presents as a blackening of the extremities, and pneumonia, which can lead to airborne transmission. Luckily, most cases clear up easily with a round of antibiotics.
  • Typhus is rare in the U.S., but it can be found in parts of California, Hawaii and Texas. It causes fever, appetite loss, nausea, stomach pain and cough. A rash often presents five days in. Untreated disease can lead to organ failure. Typhus is also easily treated with antibiotics.
  • Bartonellosis, or cat scratch disease, most often causes swollen lymph nodes and fever, but it can lead to problems with the eyes, neurological system, bones, liver and spleen. Most cases resolve on their own, with antibiotic treatment only being necessary in severe cases.

You can reduce your contact with fleas by keeping up to date on your pets’ flea control and steering clear of dead rodents and other wild animals. Talk to your veterinarian about the best way to keep your pets free of hitchhiking fleas and other pests.

You can’t avoid bugs all the time, but you can minimize your risk of disease by controlling pests and using bug repellent. If you find a bite, know what’s endemic to your area and which symptoms to watch out for. The threats are out there, and early treatment could save your life.

~Here’s to Your Healthy Ascension!

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