Published on May 10, 2021

girl putting on bug spray

Keep Bugs at Bay This Spring & Summer

The bugs are back, and this year, you’re going to be ready for them.

Each spring and summer, the mosquitoes and ticks you hoped would never return do indeed return to bite and raise bumps on our skin. Annoying, yes, but much worse is the fact that the creepy-crawlies can carry with them serious illnesses.

That’s why planning ahead now makes the most sense. No one adores the scent of bug spray or wearing long pants and long-sleeve shirts, but safety first is the word.

“From West Nile virus to Lyme disease, bugs can spread serious disease and yes, you need to protect yourself and your family,” said Avera Medical Group family practitioner Carilyn Van Kalsbeek, MD. “Some people may avoid the chemicals found in bug sprays; I recommend DEET-based products because they are proven to provide protection.”

First-Line Defenses

Van Kalsbeek said there are plenty of first-line defenses we all can take prior to donning sprays. Avoid peak times of day – early morning and dusk – when mosquitos are most active, and wear long-sleeved shirts, sturdy footwear with socks and long pants. Clean up brushy areas, standing water reservoirs and branches lying around the yard, too, as these all can make homes for pests.

“You can wear pre-treated clothing with permethrin, which serves as a great barrier to insects, and it comes in a wide range of types, including kids’ clothing,” she said. “If you’re using repellents, I go with the CDC’s recommendation and use those with DEET in concentrations between 10-30 percent.”

One application of repellent each day should be enough to keep you safe, both from bugs like ticks and mosquitos, as well as from the lingering effects of the chemical. Van Kalsbeek reminds parents to avoid “two-in-one” combination products with both sun protection and bug repellent as you’ll need more applications of the SPF than the DEET.

“DEET-based repellents are not recommended for use with children who are 2 or younger,” she said. “For young children, you can consider alternative repellents such as eucalyptus or lemon essential oils. You also should make sure to avoid getting repellent on children’s hands, because they will naturally rub their eyes or put their hands in their mouths.”

Essential oils such eucalyptus or lemon only provide protection similar to very low-concentration DEET products, she added.

Treating Bites, Stopping Ticks

Bug bites will happen, and if they do, a cold compress can reduce swelling and itch, Van Kalsbeek said. Creams are also helpful. But how do you know if something more severe is occurring? In the case of West Nile, the key is how long symptoms last.

“If the headache and other symptoms stick around for 10 days, you should get tested,” she said. “In the case of an insect bite, carefully clean the wound."

Other situations where health care professionals might help is when you have a bite or sting near your eyes.

Nasty, blood-sucking ticks are widely hated, but the best means of getting them off the skin is steeped in false information, Van Kalsbeek said. The idea of burning them from your skin or applying a dab of gasoline is false – do not do either one.

“Grasp the tick with a tweezers or similar tool near its head, then gently pull it straight out until it lets go and you can remove it,” Van Kalsbeek said. “Don’t squeeze its ‘body’ as it could force fluid into your body. You should also make a ‘tick check’ part of your routine whenever you visit areas with woods or tall grass.”

Families in which a member is allergic to insect stings – such as bees or wasps – should make sure they have epinephrine injectors (epi-pens) on hand. Van Kalsbeek also recommends wearing gloves for outdoor work in areas that may be home to spiders, including the dangerous brown recluse spider.

“They are found in South Dakota and across the Midwest, and their painful bites can lead to an urgent-care situation,” she said.

Regular checkups -- as well as yearly ones -- can also help. Learn more about how to best manage your health.

Subscribe to our

wellness e-newsletter