How to Prevent Bug Bites and Insect Borne Diseases in Your Backyard
Mowing the lawn in the summer, cleaning up the garden in the spring, raking up leaves in the fall – whatever the season, there’s always yard work to be done. And that means being exposed to hundreds, sometimes thousands, of biting insects.
Commonly Found Backyard Insects
As the fall season is approaching, there are specific insects to be weary of – including chiggers and ticks - and to know how to effectively protect yourself against them.
These “red bugs” often go unnoticed because they are so small (about 1/20 of an inch) and can easily hide in the grass. Chiggers live in dense vegetation and also prefer a damp habitat, so be extra cautious after rain or in the early morning dew.
Due to their small size, chiggers are typically only noticed after you’ve been bitten. And, because they travel in clusters, you’ll often get dozens of bites rather than a single one. Their bites leave itchy, red welts and other reactions include hives, blisters, and swelling. Usually you can find these bites on parts of the body that are closest to the ground, like the lower leg, but if you’re working on your hands and knees in the yard, the irritating rash can spread to other areas of the body.
Chiggers will attach to your skin to feed, rather than your blood like other vectors. They will fall off once they are gorged, but it’s still important to properly clean the area as soon as possible to reduce irritation - do this by simply using soap and hot water.
September is the most active month for chiggers. They thrive in temperatures between the 70s and low 80s and become less active when the weather approaches 90 degrees or drops below 60 degrees.
For reactions, Calamine lotion and Benadryl can be used to help alleviate irritation, but once you’ve been bitten the damage is done. There is a way to avoid the bites completely: use an insect repellent that effectively protects against chiggers. There are many out there that protect against chiggers specifically, but a repellent like picaridin 20% protects against chiggers for 8 hours and other backyard insects like flies, mosquitos, and ticks.
While chigger bites cause irritation, ticks are far more dangerous as they carry illnesses like Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Colorado tick fever, and babesiosis. Ticks vary in size, from poppyseed-sized nymphs to adult ticks as large as 6 millimeters long, so they can sometimes be more easily spotted before latching on to your skin.
If you do find a tick on you, it’s important to carefully remove it as quickly as possible. In general, it takes approximately 36 hours for a tick to transmit disease, but because ticks can hide in your hair and other areas of the body, they can often go unnoticed for hours, if not days.
Use tweezers to carefully pull the tick out of your skin in an upwards motion. Do not twist the tick and do not handle the tick with your bare hands. For a more detailed explanation on how to properly remove a tick, read our article “I Found a Tick On Me… Now What?”
Ticks can be found in long grass, so take extra caution when mowing the lawn or if your backyard is attached to a wooded area or marsh. The months between April and September are when ticks are most active, but ticks are still active in temperatures as low as 35 degrees, which means that it’s important to stay protected from ticks even into the winter. Additionally, ticks will latch to a host, like a deer or human, or remain dormant, so tick protection is necessary all year long, especially in areas with a high activity of pathogen-carrying ticks.
Tips for Bug Bite Prevention
1. Wear proper clothing. Covering as much skin as possible can offer a lot of protection; Wear long sleeves and pants, as well as tall socks and closed toe shoes. If you’re wearing boots, tuck your pant legs into them, and if not, tuck them into your socks. Wear light colored clothing, like a white undershirt under your outfit, so any stray ticks on your body can be easily identified.
2. Use an insect repellent that protects you against backyard bugs. Repellents with Picaridin 20%, like Ranger Ready, protect against ticks and mosquitos for 12 hours and chiggers and other biting insects for 8 hours. Apply repellent on exposed skin, face, and under sleeves and pant legs, as well as around clothing seams. (See how to properly apply bug spray).
3. Tick-check yourself and your pets after before going indoors. This will allow you to remove any ticks before transmitting disease, as well as keeps them out of your home. Throw all of your clothes into a hot dryer for at least 15 minutes to kill any ticks that are potentially clinging to fabric.
4. Shower and wash your hair after being outdoors. While this helps you check for ticks, it also helps you remove any insects that might have gotten in your hair.
For even more information on how to prevent tick bites, check out the Global Lyme Alliance’s Be Tick AWARE program.