As summertime is at its peak, so are the bugs. Mosquitoes, ticks and others are everywhere, and some can leave us with a nasty bite. It’s important to know what to look out for and how to manage it. Catherine McCarty, PhD, MPH, professor and associate dean for research and the University of Minnesota Medical School, Duluth Campus, has insight for outdoor lovers across the state.

While Dr. McCarty currently focuses on ethics and causes of disease, she spent eight years in Australia leading an epidemiology research unit. That gave her plenty of experience with bugs, bug bites and how to take care of them. When she returned to Minnesota, Lyme disease was spreading–something she has personal experience managing. 

Dr. Catherine McCarty

“Throughout Wisconsin and Minnesota, is what you could consider the tick belt or endemic, as ticks are extremely common,” says Dr. McCarty. Lyme disease is a tick borne illness, specifically from deer ticks, which are very small and difficult to spot. 

Dog ticks, also known as a wood tick, are the larger ones we typically see that do not carry disease. These deer ticks however, can carry both Lyme disease and Anaplasma, which is another tick borne illness. Dogs can receive vaccination for Lyme disease, but for humans, the vaccine is still in the works. 

Preventing and Managing Bug Bites in Minnesota

Dr. McCarty says the best way to keep impacts at bay from mosquitoes, ticks and biting flies is prevention. In the Upper Midwest, mosquitoes don’t tend to carry disease, but they can leave behind itchy bites. She suggests wearing long sleeves and long pants and to make sure to check your body for bites or ticks after being outdoors. She also recommends avoiding time outdoors during dusk and dawn, when mosquitoes are most active.

There are also several sprays and other products that may help with mosquito or tick bites. Use a bug spray to help keep them from finding you, and if you are bitten by a mosquito, an over the counter anti-itch cream may help. Just be sure to talk with your doctor before trying anything new.

Ticks tend to walk around before embedding themselves into someone’s skin, allowing time to find and remove it. “The season for ticks is as soon as it’s melting. Then the mosquitos go up and down based on how much precipitation we’ve had because they need water for their larvae,” says Dr. McCarty. 

Tick bites however, may have a very different reaction than the puffy, itchy bite from a mosquito. If you are bitten by a tick, you may notice a rash that looks like a bullseye, a ring with a darker spot in the middle, but this doesn’t happen for everyone.

If you find a tick on your body, you can remove it yourself. The tick’s head immerses itself into the skin and can be removed with sharp needle nose pliers or tweezers. Dr. McCarty also recommends calling your doctor’s office or local nurse line, and they may ask you to come in or give you some treatment options.

People who have been bitten by a tick that carries Lyme disease may experience flu-like symptoms that can worsen if left untreated, so it’s important to be mindful of how you feel and call your doctor if you notice any unusual symptoms.

If you are bitten by a tick and seek treatment immediately, Dr. McCarty is careful to note that Lyme disease would not show up in a blood test that soon. 

But the bottom line is: Summertime is the prime time for mosquitoes and ticks, but there are plenty of ways to keep them from affecting you. 

One More Thing

Summer also means bee and wasp season, and many people are letting their yards grow to protect these pollinators. According to Dr. McCarty, bee stings are more uncommon than one would think, and the only time it would really affect someone is if they are allergic. 

Dr. McCarty says again that prevention is going to be the best option to manage a bee or wasp sting. Stings are noticeable almost immediately as well as mosquito bites. She says that everyone may react to a bug bite differently, specifically mosquitoes as some may itch or swell up more than others. 

So while now is the time to enjoy the outdoors and the beautiful weather, be cautious and mindful of the bugs and the bites you may encounter. Always take action, and consult a doctor if you believe it is necessary.