In Colorado, be aware of bugs and their bites. Though usually not dangerous, bug bites can be itchy and annoying and we’d all be happy to avoid them if we could.
In Colorado, the bugs you’re most likely to encounter include mosquitoes, bees, wasps, ticks, hornets, spiders, ants, mites, and gnats. Fortunately, Lyme disease, one of the most well-known tick-borne illnesses, is not commonly found in Colorado. While there have been some reported cases, people diagnosed in Colorado with Lyme disease were most likely infected outside of the state, says Dr. Aly Barland, a UCHealth dermatologist at UCHealth Longmont Clinic. There are, however, other tick-related illnesses that you may encounter. (Learn more about staying safe from West Nile Virus.)
So, how can you enjoy the outdoors without bugs bugging you? And what are the risks if you are bitten?
“Mosquitoes and ticks are the biggest vectors that we think about in terms of bugs that carry and spread illnesses to people,” says Barland. “Fortunately, there are a number of ways to protect yourself from exposure to mosquitoes, ticks and other bugs in Colorado.”
Bugs and diseases
In addition to Lyme disease, another well-known tick-borne illness is Rocky Mountain Fever. Despite its name, it is not found in this area. Instead, Rocky Mountain Fever is more common in the southeast and Midwest. Ticks found in Colorado, fortunately, produce mild symptoms.
“There are a variety of tick diseases,” says Barland. “Some we know and some that we don’t. Often, patients who may have been exposed to various tick-borne illnesses end up blowing them off as other illnesses like cold or flu.”
Mosquitoes, as any outdoor enthusiast knows, are present in Colorado, especially near standing water. West Nile Virus (WNV), one of the most well-known mosquito-borne diseases in addition to Zika, has been found in Colorado, but the cases are few. And Zika is only an issue in tropical climates.
According to the CDC, most people don’t get ill from West Nile Virus. Only about 1 in 150 experience serious, sometimes fatal, symptoms. Fortunately, you can protect yourself against mosquitoes and ticks and the diseases they may carry.
Best prevention tips
If you’re going to be out hiking, Barland recommends covering exposed skin with clothing. Additionally, she suggests tucking your pants into your socks and your shirt into your pants, so there’s no entryway for bugs.
Apply bug repellent to exposed skin. There are a variety of products out there, from repellent bracelets to soaps and lotions. But spray, however, is still the go-to bug repellent product. Here are some effective options.
Chemical bug spray – Two chemical products commonly used to repel mosquitoes and ticks are DEET and picaridin. “Both of [these chemical ingredients] have been deemed to be safe if used as directed,” says Barland. “It’s best to apply them outside and to wash your hands after to avoid the product getting into your mouth or eyes.” Picaridin, though, is thought to have a less offensive odor and feel, according to a New York Times bug repellent roundup.
Spray for clothing – If you’d like to avoid spraying chemicals onto your skin, another option is to use permethrin, a bug spray repellent for clothing. You can also double down on preventing bug bites by spraying your exposed skin with one product and your clothing with another. “Permethrin is the bug repellent you can spray onto your clothing to make your clothing more bug repellent. It should not be sprayed directly on your skin,” says Barland.
Natural bug repellent – For those who prefer not to use chemicals on your skin or put yourself at risk of inhaling those chemicals, there is one, and only one, natural bug repellent that has been clinically proven to be as effective as DEET and picaridin.
“Most of the natural products aren’t as rigorously tested,” says Barland. “So, we don’t have sufficient data to support using them.” However, the one ingredient that stood up to the chemical products in terms of repellent effectiveness was oil of lemon eucalyptus.
Bug bite treatment options
If you’ve failed at repelling biting bugs and are fighting off the urge to scratch your itchy, swollen bites, Barland suggests starting with over-the-counter products for relief. For example, a topical or oral antihistamine such as Benadryl or a topical steroid such as hydrocortisone cream can reduce the itchiness, and Tylenol can help ease the discomfort.
For the swelling that often accompanies a bee or wasp sting, Barland recommends ice to help reduce the inflammation and stinging feelings. If your reaction is more severe, a prescription topical steroid may be necessary.
In the case of a severe allergic reaction, an anaphylactic reaction, to an insect bite, seek medical attention immediately. Symptoms of a severe allergic reaction include trouble breathing, hives, swelling of any part of the face or mouth, and dizziness.