Travel in Good Health – Part 2 of 3

25 07 2014

All the prep and stress of getting out your front door is over. Now it’s fun, sun, and bugs.

Wait. What?

Oh yes, wherever your journeys take you, you can be sure that pesky critters will be flying or crawling around, biting, stinging and more…so much more.

Some bugs carry certain diseases, such as West Nile virus, malaria, dengue and others. Whether you’re in Napa Valley, the Sahara or the Alps, there are steps you can take to avoid infection.

  • Use an insect repellent on exposed skin to repel mosquitoes, ticks, fleas and other arthropods. EPA-registered repellents include products containing DEET (N,N-diethylmetatoluamide) and picaridin (KBR 3023). DEET concentrations of 30% to 50% are effective for several hours. Picaridin, available at 7% and 15 % concentrations, needs more frequent application.
  • DEET formulations as high as 50% are recommended for both adults and children over 2 months of age. Protect infants less than 2 months of age by using a carrier draped with mosquito netting with an elastic edge for a tight fit. There are DEET-free solutions available, but check with the pediatrician for a final recommendation. Protection against mosquito bites is the goal.
  • When using sunscreen, apply sunscreen first and then repellent. Repellent should be washed off at the end of the day before going to bed. Put repellent only on exposed skin and/or clothing and don’t apply repellent to open or irritated skin. Don’t let children handle the repellent. Rather than spraying it directly on children, adults should apply it to their own hands then rub it on the children. Don’t get it near a child’s mouth, eyes or hands and don’t use much around a child’s ears.
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts which should be tucked in, long pants, and hats to cover exposed skin. When you visit areas with ticks and fleas, wear boots, not sandals, and tuck your pants into your socks.
  • Inspect your body and clothing for ticks during outdoor activity and at the end of the day. Wear light-colored or white clothing so ticks can be more easily seen. Removing ticks right away can prevent some infections.
  • Apply permethrin-containing (e.g., Permanone) or other insect repellents to clothing, shoes, tents, mosquito nets, and other gear for greater protection. Permethrin is not labeled for use directly on skin. Check label for use around children. Most repellent is generally removed from clothing and gear by a single washing, but permethrin-treated clothing is effective for up to 5 washings.
  • Be aware that mosquitoes that transmit malaria are most active during twilight periods (dawn and dusk or in the evening). Stay in air-conditioned or well-screened housing, and/ or sleep under an insecticide-treated bed net. Bed nets should be tucked under mattresses and can be sprayed with a repellent if not already treated with an insecticide.
  • Keep baby carriers covered with a mosquito net.
  • Daytime biters include mosquitoes that transmit dengue and chikungunya viruses, and sand flies that transmit leishmaniasis.

Don’t forget to come back for Part 3, where we talk about more fun times for traveling parents.


Spring Has Sprung, & so Have the Microbes

4 04 2011

Photo Credit: James Gathany, CDC

“Sweet spring is your time is my time,” wrote poet e.e. cummings. It also happens to be the time for ticks that harbor the bacteria that cause Lyme disease, and sweet springs that harbor Giardia lamblia, an intestinal parasite guaranteed to get your intestines roiling.

Beautiful weather and warming temperatures draw people to the great outdoors, where they’ll put hiking boot to path in many places where these threats lie in wait. Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium responsible for Lyme disease, lurks in the blood of two of its hosts, mice and deer. Ticks take up the microbe along with their blood snack, and when they snack on you, the microbe transfers along with some tick saliva. Ewww.

While you are most at risk of encountering a Borrelia-toting tick in the northeastern United States, the ticks that carry it live throughout the country, anywhere their hosts and good weather await.

If you find a tick, gently tweeze it out by grasping it near the head (that old “match to the tick” solution will only singe your body hair). Watch for the telltale signs of a Lyme infection, which can include a bullseye rash that forms around the bite. Note also that you can pick up a tick bite not only from hiking or hunting where ticks occur, but also from walking in tall grasses, gardening, or from a pet that’s carrying them around.

If a tick bites you, keep an eye out for symptoms for 30 days. The good news about Lyme is that most people with tick bites don’t develop it, and an antibiotic treatment will usually take care of the disease if you do get it.

Ticks can be practically invisible and difficult to avoid in some places, but you can always be careful about the water you drink. And careful you should be, because in many of the most beautiful places in the U.S., swimming in that cool mountain stream is a nasty little pathogen, Giardia lamblia. While it has been associated with food-borne outbreaks and oro-genital contact, in the wild, this unwelcome microscopic protist emerges from the intestines of woodland creatures via poop to end up in water sources.

If you drink that water without filtering it first, using a water filter that keeps G. lamblia out of your mouth, you’ll swallow Giardia cysts along with that cool drink. Giardia will take advantage of the homey environment of your intestines, and in a week or two will start reproducing. Your end of the bargain is debilitating intestinal symptoms that can last for weeks. Treatments are available, but giardiasis can often resolve on its own, if unpleasantly.

Bedbugs Give Us the Willies

26 05 2010

After a long day of navigating crowded airports and chasing sleep on loud, stuffy airplane cabins, don’t you just heave a sigh of relief when you finally reach your hotel room?

Do you drop your bags and flop onto the bed, just so darn happy not to be sitting in a cramped airplane? When you do head for the bed, do you first check the mattress for bedbugs? We do.

Bedbugs are tiny bloodsuckers that give us the willies. Not only do they suck our blood, they love to hop onto our clothes or our luggage and go home with us.

Bedbugs are small, brownish-red insects with flat, oval-shaped bodies. Despite their names, bedbugs can live in other areas besides your bed including nooks and crannies on bed frames, on curtains, wall plaster, and on other materials.

These little vampires were nearly eliminated through the liberal use of DDT in the 1940s and 1950s. Bedbugs have become a problem again in the U.S. due to international travel and what experts fear is evidence of bedbugs’ growing immunity to conventional insecticides.

There’s a good chance you will come into contact with bedbugs at some point, especially if you travel often or frequently purchase and trade items like used furniture.

Sleeping on a pile of bugs has a pretty high gross factor, but the most that will happen when bitten is a red bump and some itching.

The real challenge is getting rid of them once they’re found, a situation that will probably require the aid of a pest control expert.

Here are some tips for identifying an infestation and alleviating the problem (fingers crossed):

  • Get a positive ID on the bug. You may not have bedbugs and might not need to go through the song and dance required to rid yourself and your home of the infestation.
  • Make sure you have a live infestation and not just signs (dead bugs, blood spots on bedding) of a past infestation.
  • Don’t assume the bugs are living in only one room. Check all of your rooms for bedbugs. Dismantle the bed and check the frame and head/foot boards for bugs. Pull out all of the drawers from the furniture and check behind as well as on the underside of the drawers. Turn the furniture over and check the bottom, as well as all sides and the top. Leave no nook or cranny unexplored, no matter how small. Clean all of these areas you’re inspecting.
  • Clean out the clutter in your room(s). Bedbugs will roam and love to hide in clutter.
  • Roll up your sleeves for some major cleaning. Scrub everything with a brush and cleaning agent to dislodge the eggs. Vacuum where you can’t scrub and, once it’s dry, vacuum what you did scrub.
  • Keep the bed away from the wall and your bedding off the floor to prevent bugs from crawling onto the bed. Put the bed legs into cups of mineral oil to prevent the critters climbing up that way.
  • Look around the interior of the house and seal spots where bugs can get in, such as cracks around baseboards, or holes where pipes come through the walls.
  • Talk to a pest control expert who’s experienced in bedbug infestations. Get references and find out what the plan is for removal, what insecticides might be used, and how those chemicals may affect those living in your home.

Wish we could end on a brighter note…hey, bedbugs aren’t known to carry disease-causing germs. There’s some good news! Right?