Warmer weather means cookouts, bonfires and spending time at the pool with friends and family, but it’s what’s living in your backyard that may pose an added health risk. Many people only associate mosquitos with the itchy red bump a bite may cause, but these pesky insects can also carry serious diseases.

International travel has been linked with six confirmed cases of Zika in the Hoosier state this year, according to the Indiana State Department of Health. In 2015, there were 21 cases of West Nile Virus in Indiana.  While there is no guaranteed way of avoiding mosquito bites, there are precautionary measures you may take to reduce the risk of being bitten. These measures include wearing protective clothing such as long-sleeved shirts, long pants and socks when outdoors; applying insect repellent (please check with your pediatrician before using repellents on children less than 3 years of age) containing DEET, Picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, and IR3535 to any exposed skin; and avoiding outdoor activities in areas known to be ideal for mosquito breeding.

There are many holistic ways to prevent mosquito bites which include; planting certain plants, using natural repellents and burning citronella candles. Unfortunately, the effectiveness of these methods is limited and varied.  Some natural repellents are actually more irritating to the skin than products that contain DEET.

Also, in people that have diseases that can lead to slow healing like diabetes or vascular disease it is important to take care of the bite once it happens. Not scratching can be difficult but there are products that can help decrease the itchiness like calamine lotion and hydrocortisone lotion are very effective.  Something as simple as an ice pack will also bring relief.

In addition, installing or repairing screen doors and windows; removing or covering containers that may collect water; flushing out bird baths, kiddie pools and pet bowls weekly; and keeping your lawn and shrubbery trimmed will greatly reduce your chance of being bitten.

Mosquitos aren’t the only insects to protect yourself against this summer – ticks also pose

a serious health risk to both humans and pets. Ticks are most active between the months of April – September and may carry Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and more. Reducing your exposure to ticks is the best defense against these diseases. Ticks must be attached to the skin for 24 hours to transmit Lyme disease.

In order to reduce your exposure to ticks, you are advised to avoid wooded and brushy areas with high grass and leaf litter, and walk in the center of trails if you are hiking. It is also suggested that you use a repellent containing 20-to-30 percent DEET on exposed skin, as well as protective clothing covering your arms, legs and feet. Prior to heading outdoors for a long hike, treat clothing and gear such as boots, socks and tents with products containing Permethrin. This will ensure added protection through several washings. Pre-treated clothing is also available for purchase.

After outdoor activities, be sure to bathe or shower as soon as possible, preferably within two hours, and conduct a full-body check to locate any possible ticks. Parents should check their children for ticks under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the bellybutton, behind the knees and especially in the hair. You may also tumble dry clothing on high heat for an hour to kill any remaining ticks.

Obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol are much more common issues than diseases spread from mosquitos and ticks so, with the above tips in mind, get outside this summer and stay active!

Dr. Maria Robles
Associate Chief Physician
Eskenazi Health West 38th Street