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Relief from being 'bugged' this summer

Here in Minnesota there is no shortage of annoying flying and crawling pests in the warm spring and summer months. After all, we do (unofficially) call the mosquito our state bird!

Thankfully, most of the buggy critters in our area are harmless. But, there are several crawling and flying culprits known to cause serious disease, allergic reactions or excessive almost unbearable irritation.

Here is a list of the top offenders:


In 2015, 95 percent of the confirmed Lyme disease cases in our country came from only 14 states. Minnesota was one of those states and 21.4 people of every 100,000 in Minnesota have Lyme disease (according to, making it an important topic of discussion in our state.

It's important to note that experts say the number of ticks carrying Lyme is expected to grow rapidly this season due to an increased population of mice. Why mice? Deer ticks do not get

infected with Lyme from deer. Instead, deer ticks become infected with the bacterial agent

causing Lyme disease from small rodents, such as white-footed mice.

An unusually large abundance of acorns in the Northeast two years ago fueled a population spike in white-footed mice last year. Ticks attach themselves to this type of mouse and feed on its blood to acquire the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. The increase of mice last year means an increase of infected ticks this year.

Another tick related illness causing concern is Powassan or POW virus transmitted by black

legged ticks (deer ticks). It is rare, with only 75 cases reported over the past 10 years, 20 in Minnesota. Most cases occurred in the Northeast and Great Lakes region, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Symptoms of POW include fever, headache, vomiting, weakness, seizures and memory loss. The CDC reports that long-term neurological damage can also occur.

It bears repeating that physician-diagnosed POW is very rare and experts say Lyme disease is much more likely to affect the lives of Minnesotans. Here is what you need to know to better protect yourself and your loved ones from Lyme disease:

Primarily risks are from mid-May through mid-July when the smaller nymph stage of the

deer tick is feeding. This year however, there have been heightened concerns starting as early and April and early May.

Lyme disease is spread by blacklegged ticks, otherwise known as deer ticks or bear ticks that are infected with the Lyme disease bacteria.

The infected tick must be attached for at least 24-48 hours to transmit the bacteria. The chances of getting Lyme disease increases the longer the tick is attached.

Though a distinctive bull's-eye rash is a common sign of Lyme disease, not everyone infected will develop this rash.

The signs of Lyme disease are different for everyone, but the most common complaint is flu-like symptoms.

Other common symptoms of Lyme disease are headache, fever, chills, muscle and joint pain and fatigue. Months after the onset of the illness, symptoms can become serious and include multiple rashes, paralysis on one side of the face, heart palpitations, arthritis and severe fatigue.

Lyme disease is diagnosed through a physical examination and blood tests. It is treated with antibiotics.

Prevention of Lyme disease includes staying away from tick-infested areas such as long grasses, brush, stumps, fallen logs and the leaf litter under trees. Wear light colored clothing and tuck your shirt into your pants and your pants into your socks.

Use bug spray with DEET.

Always do a thorough tick check after being outside. If you do find a tick on yourself, remove it promptly. If possible, use a pair of tweezers to grasp the tick by the head. Grasp the tick close to the skin and pull the tick outward slowly, gently and steadily. Do not squeeze the tick. Then use an antiseptic on the bite.

If you are having any trouble removing the tick, head to the doctor. Offices have surgical equipment to safely remove the tick and treat the surrounding area. Visit them if you are noticing abnormal signs and symptoms after the bite.

Mosquitos (carrying the Zika Virus)

We Minnesotans know the drill when it comes to mosquitos: wear protective clothing and use repellent. But this summer there is an added concern: the Zika Virus. While the symptoms of Zika virus disease are typically mild, there is concern over a possible link between Zika virus infection and serious health conditions, particularly in babies of mothers who were infected with the virus.

Fortunately, the Zika virus is not established in Minnesota though we have had cases locally from people who have traveled to Zika-infected areas like South and Central America into Mexico as well as some areas of the Caribbean. There have been 17 cases of Minnesotans contracting Zika due to travel to these areas.

If you are planning to travel to affected areas you may become sick and should either consider delaying travel (particularly for pregnant women) or follow steps to prevent mosquito bites including wearing protective clothing and insect repellent with DEET.

Northern black widow

This is a venomous spider that calls our state home. It is important to point out that Minnesotans aren't at great risk of being bitten by a Northern black widow or any spiders for that matter. Bites from a Northern black widow are rare, since these spiders are skittish and prone to retreat.

Accidental contact with a web is the most likely scenario to result in a bite. These spiders are active at night. They prefer dark corners or crevices, like garages. Only the females bite humans, and only when they're disturbed.

The venom of Northern black widows is highly toxic — 15 times more so than that of a rattlesnake — but little is released relative to a human's size. Less than 1 percent of bites result in fatalities, most often in small children. The effects of the venom vary widely, depending on the size and sensitivity of the victim and the bite';s location and depth. The protein venom of the Northern black widow spider affects the victim's nervous system. Some people are only slightly affected while others may have a severe response.

Bites become painful within 15 minutes to an hour. Symptoms usually last about 24 hours and include aching, cramping, nausea, vomiting, itching, sweating, fever, increased blood pressure, irregular heartbeat and spasms or tremors.

If you suspect you have been bitten by at Northern black widow spider, it is important you get checked out. The spider has a row of red spots down the middle of the upper surface of its abdomen. It also has two crosswise bars on the underside and its markings can be yellow or white. The spider may be brown or have red legs.

We see a lot of patients at The UR who believe they have been bitten by a spider, when in reality, they have an abscess or a localized collection of bacteria (puss) under the skin. This is typically the result of an opening in the skin or hair follicle that got infected, not a bite from a spider.

Wasps, bees and hornets

Wasps, like bees and hornets, are equipped with a stinger as a means of self-defense. A wasp's stinger contains a poisonous substance called venom that is transmitted to humans during a

sting. While a bee can only sting once because its stinger becomes stuck in the skin of its victim, a wasp can sting more than once during an attack. Wasp stingers remain intact.

Even if you aren't allergic to bees or wasps, the pain of a sting is enough to have you concerned. It hurts, a lot. Pain, redness, minor swelling, and itching are common symptoms of a wasp sting.

Be careful removing a bee stinger. Do not use a tweezers. This is a common mistake. Picture the stinger as a straw with venom inside. If you squeeze that straw, more venom can come out. Instead, we instruct patients to remove the stinger with a credit card. Just scrape the card over the skin to remove the stinger. Then, wash the area with soap and water and, if necessary, apply a cold compress.

We are most concerned about a reaction to stings called anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis occurs when your body goes into shock in response to the wasp venom. Most people who go into shock after a wasp sting do so very quickly. It's important to seek immediate emergency care to treat anaphylaxis.

Symptoms of a severe allergic reaction to wasp stings include:

• Severe swelling of the face, lips or throat

• Hives or itching in areas of the body not affected by the sting

• Breathing difficulties, such as wheezing or gasping

• Dizziness

• Sudden drop in blood pressure

• Lightheadedness

• Loss of consciousness

• Nausea or vomiting

• Diarrhea

• Stomach cramps

• Weak or racing pulse

You may not experience all of these symptoms after a wasp sting, but you're likely to experience at least some of them after a subsequent sting. According to the Mayo Clinic, people who have gone into anaphylactic shock after one sting are 30 to 60 percent more likely to show the same reaction in the future.

If you have a history of anaphylaxis, carry a kit in the event of a wasp sting. "Bee sting kits" contain epinephrine injections that you can give yourself after a wasp sting. Epinephrine relaxes your muscles and blood vessels, helping your heart and respiration rates return to normal. These kits may also contain antihistamines such as Benadryl. This can help prevent swelling and itching and is a first line of defense for severe reactions like swelling of the throat.