Which insects are out to bite us this summer — and how can you reduce your risk of being bitten?
Wasps and bees
The slightly good news is that in the UK, you are unlikely to get a wasp sting until autumn, according to wasp-repellent producer Waspinator — that is ‘unless you accidentally put your hand or foot on one and they are defending themselves, or unless you disturb a wasps’ nest’. And bees are unlikely to sting, unless they are stepped on or disturbed. However, minimising your exposure to wasps and bees is the best way to not get stung:
— Keep food and drink covered when outside and, when drinking, use open cups rather than cans or drinks with straws, to make it easier to see if an insect has flown in.
— Watch what you wear. Avoid bright colours or floral prints, which can attract bees; cover exposed skin and always wear shoes when outside so that you don’t stand on a wasp or bee.
— Some perfumes, scented deodorants and soaps can also attract insects.
— Never try to move a wasps’ nest. It is unlikely to end well.
According to Rentokil.com: ‘In the UK it is rare for mosquitoes or biting insects to transmit disease. The main risk from mosquito bites is potential skin irritation.’
When travelling, of course, the story is different. Special care (and often pre-holiday inoculation) is needed in areas where mosquitoes spread diseases such as Zika, dengue fever and malaria. Read the latest advice here.
To avoid mosquito bites:
— Wear clothes that cover as much of the body as possible — and remember mosquitoes can bite through thin clothing, so use an insecticide or repellent even if you are covered up.
— Products containing the chemical DEET are the most effective insect repellents and are safe when used correctly (speak to a pharmacist for advice). Contrary to popular myth, eating garlic, taking vitamin B or using ultrasound or electronic mosquito repellents do not stop mosquitoes from biting.
— At dusk and night when insects are most active, repelling products or candles can help to keep them away.
— Avoid areas with water, especially slow-moving or stagnant water, as they are breeding sites for mosquitoes.
Related to spiders, there are many species of tick in the UK, though sheep ticks are the most likely to bite humans. They are around the size of a poppy seed when they bite, so are very hard to see. You might not notice a tick bite as they aren’t usually painful. However, some people will suffer swelling or blistering and itchiness. Ticks are generally found in any areas with deep or overgrown vegetation, where they have access to animals on which to feed. Although they are common in woodland or heath areas, ticks can also be found in parks or gardens — and by brushing against something they’re on, you can inadvertently help them climb on to your skin.
If you find a tick on your skin, you’ll need to remove it as you’re more likely to become infected if the tick is attached to your skin for more than 24 hours. It’s important to remove ticks properly with a tick-removal tool or fine-tipped tweezers to avoid any part of the tick remaining and causing infection. Not all ticks carry the bacteria that cause Lyme disease, but those that do can transfer it to humans. In the early stages, Lyme disease can cause a distinctive circular rash at the site of the bite and/or flu-like symptoms (such as tiredness, muscle/joint pain, fever, headaches and neck stiffness). If not treated early, in some cases Lyme disease can lead to more serious symptoms such as problems affecting the nervous system or heart.
Find out more about Lyme disease and when to see your GP here.
Reduce your risk of tick bites:
— Keep to paths and avoid walking through undergrowth.
— Wear long-sleeved tops and tuck your trousers into your socks. Light-coloured clothes also make it easier to spot ticks if they’ve found their way onto you.
— Check yourself and other family members, including pets, for any ticks when returning from a countryside walk. Adults tend to be bitten around the legs while small children are usually bitten above the waist. Lyme Disease Action advises checking children’s hairline and scalp.