We moved to the warmer months and many of our activities will start moving outdoors. While COVID recommendations are applied outdoors, there are other things to consider when packing a picnic basket. The risk of human infection from flea bites is greatest in late spring and during the summer months. Ticks can carry several organisms that can cause diseases such as Lyme disease, Ehrlichiosis and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. In 2019, there were 296 cases of Lyme disease reported in Iowa.
Ticks are generally found near the ground in dense or wooded areas. Fleas cannot fly or jump; they are generally in tall grass or bushes and when brushed will rise to the person. Once on someone, the flea will search for skin sites and attach themselves. There are some easy steps we can take to protect ourselves from flea bites such as avoiding wooded and grassy areas.
If you plan to spend time in this area:
• Walk in the middle of the path.
• Avoid wooded areas and bushes with tall grass and leaf litter.
• Check for lice after activity in the flea area.
• Bathing immediately after entering from outside.
• Use repellents containing DEET, picaridin, or IR3535 20 percent or more on exposed skin for protection that lasts for several hours. Always following product instructions, parents must apply the product to their children, avoiding hands, eyes and mouth.
• Use products that contain permethrin on clothing. Treat clothing and equipment, such as boots, pants, socks, and tents, with products containing 0.5% permethrin. It still protects through several washes. Pre-treatment clothing is available and may be more protective.
• The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has online tools to help you choose the best repellent for you and your family at https://www.epa.gov/insect-repllents/find-insect-repllent-right-you.
If you find lice on your body, remove them immediately. Traditional medicine, such as burning lice with matches or covering it with petroleum jelly or nail polish, is ineffective. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the following instructions for removing the check mark:
• Handle lice carefully by using tweezers to hold the lice on the mouth, which is close to the skin. Do not squeeze the flea body.
• Pull firmly directly away from your skin. Because removing the body of a flea is your main goal, don’t worry if the mouth part is cut off in the process.
• Clean the wound and disinfect the bite.
If you experience a rash or fever within a few weeks after getting rid of lice, see a doctor. Not everyone who suffers from Lyme disease will have the same symptoms, but the best and earliest sign of infection is a rash that may appear within a few days to a month, usually at the site of a tick bite. The first rash will look like a small red bump, then expand until it starts to look like a bull’s eye, with a red center and a red ring surrounding a clear area.
For more information about Lyme disease or flea-borne diseases visit the Iowa Department of Public Health at: https://www.idph.iowa.gov/ CADE or contact your local health department.
Christa Poggemiller is the director of the Des Moines Regional Public Health.
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