Summer’s pleasures are many: lazy hammocks and breezy beach days, lemonade stands and watermelon spitting contests. Yet the hot weather and humidity bring out some less than pleasant aspects of Lowcountry living as well—specifically unpleasantness of the pesky insect variety.
Mosquitoes thrive in summer’s thunderstorm-fueled dampness, and our iconic neighbors, otherwise known as the Palmetto bug (aka cockroach), make themselves right at home, in most everyone’s home – regardless of how clean and tidy. Ticks and fleas are also happy campers here in the hot months, and fire ants can also be dangerous. So what are some health-conscious ways to ward off summer pests so you and your family can enjoy the season without too many bites, or worse?
As with most every health issue, prevention is the preferred, and best, course of action. Yet that can be hard to do with many pests, especially mosquitoes. Wear long sleeves and long pants when outside whenever possible (especially in the evening, when it’s a bit cooler and mosquitoes are particularly hungry), to keep your tender skin from turning into a buffet. If you are gardening or doing yard work during the day, consider adding a hat, with netting to protect your neck. Instead of sandals, opt for closed toe shoes with socks which will help protect your feet from both mosquitoes and fire ants, and from the lawn mower or edge trimmer.
But sometimes it’s just too hot to be outside all covered up. A natural insect repellent made from lemon eucalyptus oil (either alone or mixed with other oils like sunflower oil or witch hazel; use one part lemon eucalyptus oil to every 10 parts of the other oil) is a safe, and good smelling option, that’s non-toxic to you and to the environment. If you feel like you need a stronger defense, DEET is effective, but be sure to choose a spray with a concentration of no more than 20 percent, and don’t use it on your hands or on babies younger than two months, says Dr. Melissa Ellis-Yarian, a family medicine doctor affiliated with Roper St. Francis Healthcare.
Most insect bites are nothing more than an itchy nuisance, adds Dr. Ellis-Yarian, but sometimes with a tick, spider or mosquito bite, bacteria can be introduced under the skin, causing infection. To prevent this, immediately wash the area with soap and water and refrain from itching. If a bite area becomes red, swollen and painful and/or you experience fever or aches, see your doctor. Keep an EpiPen in your home first aid kit in case someone has an allergic reaction to a bee sting or ant bite.
As for our pals the Palmetto bug? They might horrify you (or your guests) but unless you have an infestation, they are unlikely to result in adverse health issues (minus that heart-rate rise when one scurries across the counter late at night). Again, natural prevention is preferable to using harmful chemicals in and around your home. Some suggestions for keeping the roaches at bay:
- Keep yard debris and mulch around your home to a minimum. Prune tree limbs and shrubbery so they don’t touch the house. Keep wood piles away from the house and off the ground.
- Do not put pet food bowls out overnight and keep kennel areas clean.
- Put garbage in sealed bags and in garbage cans with lids. Rinse out cans and bottles before putting in the recycling bin, and keep your recycling areas in a dry location away from the house. Same with compost.
- Keep window screens and weather stripping in good repair. Check attic vents and windows. Caulk large openings around outside drainage lines and sewer vents. Steel wool can be used as a temporary filler until you can caulk openings properly.
- Clean crumbs and spills on floors, counters and shelves as soon as they occur.
- Keep faucets and drains under sinks and appliances in good condition. Roaches love playing hide and seek in messy cabinets and in stacks of newspapers, bags and rags.
If you are worried about an allergic reaction or a bite-induced infection that isn’t healing, visit the Roper St. Francis Healthcare Express Care nearest you.