Take the bite out of summer with protection against bugs

Summertime in the Northwest means more sunshine, which also invites bugs to the region. The guest list includes species that target humans, especially mosquitoes.

Washington state is home to over 40 mosquito species, according to the State Department of Health, but their effects on people can vary greatly.  A bite may leave behind a barely noticeable bump or a large, itchy welt. It depends on the victim.

“People are all over their map in their response to mosquito bites. There's a wide range among people in their sensitivity, their susceptibility to the itchy effects of bug bites,” says Dr. Christopher Sanford, an associate professor for global health and family medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine.

Sanford recommends taking these steps to prevent bites:

  • Use a repellant that contains either DEET, picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus.
  • Apply permethrin to your clothing or camping equipment. Permethrin-treated clothing is also available.
  • Wear long sleeves and long pants if you know you’ll be exposed to biting bugs.

If you get bit, Sanford says antihistamines such as Benadryl can reduce the urge to scratch and quell pain. Hydrocortisone creams can do the same thing.

Your chances of encountering mosquitoes could be lower this year because of drought conditions across much of Washington, as less rain and standing water means fewer places for mosquitoes to breed. But that doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods, so to speak.

“There are a lot of other insects, such as ticks, that really persist throughout the year,” Sanford says. “What is true for mosquitoes is not true of a lot of other biting bugs.”

Ticks are most commonly found in thick, wooded areas. Ticks can carry Lyme disease but cases are rare along the West Coast, Sanford says. Nevertheless he recommends a head-to-toe tick check after you explore rugged areas with thick shrubbery this summer.

UW Medicine