Health & Fitness

Summer is coming. Are you ready for the bugs?

Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, responsible for transmitting Zika.
Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, responsible for transmitting Zika. AP file

Ah, summer! A time for warm weather, lounging by the pool, outdoor grilling, and taking vacations. Living in Florida also means that those hot, muggy summer days bring many bugs, including different species of mosquitoes and ticks.

If you and your child intend to spend time outdoors this summer, it is important that you also know how to protect yourselves from illnesses that can be carried by these bugs.

In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently reported that illnesses from tick, mosquito, and flea bites have tripled over the past several years. As a result, more than 640,000 patients came down with diseases transmitted by bites from these three types of insects between 2004 and 2016.

Dr. Gabriela Moraru.jpg
Gabriela Moraru, M.D. is a pediatric infectious disease specialist in her second year of fellowship training within the University of Miami Health System.

In Florida, there are quite a few “mosquito-borne diseases” that are widespread during the summer including yellow fever, Zika, dengue, Chikungunya virus, West Nile virus, Eastern Equine encephalitis, and St. Louis encephalitis. These infections resurface each year during the summer because people are exposed to infected mosquitoes. Even if you do not travel to parts of the world that have higher rates of infection of these mosquito-borne viruses, you are not entirely protected. The disease can still come to you, at any time of the day.

Often there is a misconception that mosquitoes are more active during a particular time of day. This is not necessarily the case. The Culex species of mosquito that transmits West Nile virus, for example, is more active from the evening until the morning while the Aedes species responsible for infections such as Dengue, Chikungunya and Zika, are primarily a daytime mosquito.

If your summer travels happen to take you north this year, leaving you to think you have escaped any form of insect-transmitted virus, then you would be mistaken. The woods in the north tend to house ticks that are waiting for unprepared tourists. While Florida also has ticks, the majority of infections transmitted by ticks are acquired in the North and Northeast regions of the United States. Ticks can transmit a variety of diseases such as Borrelia burgdoferi, also known as Lyme disease, and Rickettsia rickettsia that can cause Rocky Mountain Spotty Fever.

A tick will typically grab and climb onto a host, be it a person or another animal, using its two front legs. They usually require anywhere between 36 to 48 hours of attachment to enable them to feed which is why it’s crucial to check your skin and that of your child’s closely and frequently. If you find a tick, remove it by either using small tweezers placed close to the skin or grabbing it by the head and pulling it upward, steadily, with constant pressure while avoiding any twisting or jerky movements.

However, it is still possible to have a great time during the summer so long as you are proactive in your preventive measures against mosquitoes and other bugs. Here are some tips to help you and your children stay safe:

  • Mosquito-proof your home using screening on windows and doors.

  • Drain any standing water from your residence and cover anything that can collect water.

  • Wear breathable long-sleeve shirts and pants that can be impregnated with permethrin, a pesticide that you spray on clothing to kill flies, ticks, and mosquitoes.

  • If parts of your skin are exposed, than opt for using repellant products that are registered with the Environmental Protection Agency as safe such as DEET, IR3535, picardin, oil of lemon eucalyptus and or para-menthane-diol (PMD). These repellants are also safe for use in pregnant and lactating women. However, they are not recommended for use in infants less than 2 months of age. Lemon eucalyptus oil or para-menthane-diol (PMD) should also be avoided in children younger than 3 years of age.

  • When using repellant on children older than 3 years of age, spray the repellant on your hands first and then rub it onto the child’s face, rather than spraying it on them directly.

  • Avoid applying repellant on the hands of young children, who often put their hands in their mouth, as well as on any cuts, scratches or irritated skin.

  • Cover cribs and strollers with a mosquito net in addition to dressing the baby with adequate clothing.
Gabriela Moraru, M.D. is a pediatric infectious disease specialist in her second year of fellowship training within the University of Miami Health System. For more information, visit