Health Blog

Summer Bug Beware: Protect Yourself from Ticks, Mosquitoes, Bees and Chiggers

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Woman's arm with several mosquito bites on it

As summer approaches, so does the buzzing, biting, and stinging of insects. While Iowa’s warm weather invites outdoor adventures, it also brings forth a variety of bugs that can pose health risks. Among these nuisances are ticks, mosquitoes, bees, and wasps, each capable of causing discomfort and sometimes serious illnesses. Here we’ll explore the potential dangers these insects carry, how to prevent bites and stings, and essential steps to take if you find yourself on the receiving end of their wrath.



Iowa’s woodlands and grassy areas provide the perfect habitat for ticks, tiny arachnids that latch onto unsuspecting hosts for a blood meal. Ticks are notorious for transmitting diseases such as Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Lyme disease can cause long-term health complications if left untreated.


To avoid tick bites, Lakes Regional Family Medicine physician Dr. Christine Fricke suggests wearing light colored clothing, tucking pants into socks, and using insect repellents containing DEET. She said, “After spending time outdoors, thoroughly check children, pets, and yourself for ticks -and don’t forget your hair. Showering within two hours of being outdoors can also help remove ticks before they attach.”


Symptoms of a tick bite may include a bullseye-shaped rash, fever, headache, fatigue, and muscle aches. If you suspect you’ve been bitten by a tick and experience any of these symptoms, seek medical attention promptly.


If you find a tick attached to your skin, use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible. Pull upward with steady, even pressure, being careful not to twist or jerk the tick, as this can cause the mouthparts to break off and remain in the skin. Clean the area with rubbing alcohol or soap and water after removal.



Mosquitoes are ubiquitous during Iowa summers, breeding in standing water and emerging to feed on human blood. Beyond the itchy welts they leave behind, mosquitoes can transmit serious illnesses such as West Nile virus and Zika virus.


Minimize exposure to mosquitoes by wearing long sleeves and pants, using insect repellants, and avoiding outdoor activities during dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active. Eliminate standing water around your home, as even small amounts can serve as breeding grounds for mosquitoes.


Mosquito bites typically cause red, itchy bumps on the skin. In some cases, however, mosquito-borne illnesses can lead to more severe symptoms such as fever, headache, body aches, and fatigue. Seek medical attention if you experience any unusual symptoms after being bitten by a mosquito.


To alleviate itching from mosquito bites, apply calamine lotion, hydrocortisone cream, or a cold compress to the affected area. Avoid scratching, as this can make bites itch more and can lead to infection.


Bees and Wasps

While bees and wasps play vital roles in pollination, their stings can pack a painful punch. For those allergic to bee or wasp venom, a sting can trigger a life-threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis. Even for those without allergies, bees and wasp stings can cause pain, swelling, and redness at the site of the sting.


Be mindful of your surroundings, especially when dining outdoors or near flowering plants, as bees and wasps are attracted to food and nectar. Wear closed-toe shoes and avoid wearing brightly colored clothing or floral prints, which can attract these insects. Keep food and drinks covered when outdoors to deter bees and wasps.


Immediate symptoms of a bee or wasp sting include pain, redness, swelling, and itching at the sting site. Lakes Regional Healthcare Emergency Medicine Physician Nalini Jagram-Payer, MD added that allergic reactions may occur. She said, “Symptoms may progress to difficulty breathing, swelling of the face or throat, rapid heartbeat, and dizziness. Seek emergency medical attention if you experience any signs of a severe allergic reaction.”


If stung by a bee, remove the stinger by scraping it off with a fingernail or a blunt object rather than squeezing it, as squeezing can release more venom into the skin. Wash the area with soap and water and apply a cold compress to reduce swelling. Over-the-counter pain relievers and antihistamines can help alleviate discomfort and itching.



Chiggers are bugs so small that you need a magnifying glass to see them, hence their nickname “no-see-ums.” They’re plentiful in moist, grassy areas like fields, your lawn, and by the lakeshore. They tend to stay clumped together in large groups on leaves and grass, usually less than a foot off the ground, and attach to animals or people as they pass by.


To prevent chigger bites, follow the same tick prevention tips: tuck pants into socks, and use insect repellents containing DEET. Also mow and weed your lawn frequently and avoid places where they thrive.


Chiggers make tiny holes in the skin, inject saliva that turns some skin cells into liquid that they then consume. Once they’re attached to your skin, a chigger may stay there for several days while they feast. Although chiggers aren’t a big threat to your health, their bites, often on your ankles, legs, and waist, can leave you with clustered, pimple-like red bumps or pustules and a strong urge to scratch. You may even get blisters or a hive-like rash that may take up to two weeks to heal. The itching itself usually lasts for several days and may even keep you awake at night.


If bitten by chiggers, take a bath or shower and scrub your skin with soap and water to wash away any chiggers still present. Using hot water, wash clothes and any blankets or towels that touched the ground. Treat bites with an over-the-counter cream such as calamine lotion or hydrocortisone. You can also take antihistamine pills or use a cold compress.



As you embark on outdoor adventures this summer, arm yourself with knowledge and precautions to protect against ticks, mosquitoes, bees, wasps, and chiggers. By taking proactive measures to prevent bites and stings and knowing how to respond if you do encounter these pesky insects, you can enjoy the great outdoors safely and without fear of bug-related illnesses ruining your summer fun. Stay informed, stay vigilant, and stay safe!


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