Liz Sheffield

Just How Worrisome Are Pesky Summer Bugs?

Summer bugs are annoying — but do the side effects of bug bites pose serious health threats, too?

In fact, mosquitoes and ticks introduced and spread nine new germs into the United States from 2004 to 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And reports of bug bite diseases have tripled.

“Zika, West Nile, Lyme and chikungunya — a growing list of diseases caused by the bite of an infected mosquito, tick or flea — have confronted the U.S. in recent years, making a lot of people sick,” said CDC director Robert R. Redfield. “And we don’t know what will threaten Americans next.”

Common Bug Bite Symptoms and Treatment

Symptoms and side effects of bug bites and stings range from irritation and itchiness to fever, headache, fatigue and muscle pain. More serious symptoms include swelling, meningitis or anaphylaxis if an allergic reaction occurs.

The CDC offers the following helpful information about symptoms and treatment for illnesses caused by bug bites:

  • Zika virus symptoms include fever, headache, rash, red eyes, muscle and joint pain. While people infected with Zika virus often show only mild symptoms or even none at all, the infection can cause congenital disabilities in babies born to women who were infected during pregnancy.
  • West Nile virus is typically transmitted by mosquito bites. Most infected people do not show symptoms, with only 1 in 5 developing a fever and other signs of the virus. Roughly 1 in 150 infected people will develop a serious and potentially fatal illness. There are no vaccines to prevent or medications to treat West Nile Virus.
  • Lyme disease is spread by bites from ticks. Symptoms include headache, fatigue, fever and skin rash. This illness is diagnosed based on symptoms, exposure to ticks and lab tests. A few weeks of antibiotics generally leads to successful treatment of Lyme disease.
  • Chikungunya virus is transmitted through bites from an infected mosquito and causes symptoms to appear in most people three to seven days after being bitten. Typical symptoms include fever and joint pain. Travelers outside the United States have a higher risk for this virus, as outbreaks have occurred in African, Asian and European countries, as well as in countries in the Indian and Pacific Oceans and on the Caribbean islands. As with West Nile, there are no vaccines to prevent or medications to treat chikungunya.

Ensuring that your employees have access to health care to treat these and other conditions that can arise from a bug bite is important, especially for businesses whose employees work outdoors. While it’s impossible to prevent every worksite illness, you can help employees to reduce their risk of exposure to these bug bite diseases.

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3 Steps to Protect Outdoor Workers From Bug Bites

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) provides the following guidance:

  1. Educate your employees about the risks and symptoms of bug bites. The information above is a great place to start.
  2. Teach employees how to protect themselves from bites, including wearing protective clothing over exposed skin (arms, legs, hands) and using insect repellent, which you should provide.
  3. Keep bugs away from worksites by removing buckets, clogged gutters and other sources of standing water, where mosquitoes tend to gather to lay their eggs.

OSHA notes that you should also work to accommodate alternate arrangements for employees who are pregnant or may become pregnant, since bug bites can lead to serious problems for new babies.

At best, bug bites are annoying and itchy. At worst, they can spread fatal viruses. But with a little education and preparation, your employees can enjoy their time outside while the weather’s good without having to worry.

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