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By: Lauren McRae
Heading outside this weekend to hike, bike, or camp?
Most of us know to practice vigilant sun safety during the hottest months of the year when the sun’s rays are at their most intense, but sometimes we forget it’s also very important to protect against dangerous insect bites. Warm temperatures are just as appealing to insects as they are to Chicagoans ready to leave a long winter behind.
Most mosquito bites are irritating but otherwise harmless; however, some mosquitoes can transmit encephalitis and West Nile virus, which can cause severe illness with symptoms like headache, high fever and bodily weakness. Ticks can transmit Lyme disease, which can be treated if recognized early, so look for flu-like symptoms and possible rashes. Left untreated, Lyme disease can cause joint and muscle pain, fatigue, heart problems and neurological issues.
Other than mosquitoes, keep an eye out for kissing bug bites. They look like mosquito bites, but you'll usually find a cluster of these bites in one spot. People who are sensitive to the bug's saliva, may experience a reaction to the bite. This is usually only mild itching, redness, and swelling, but occasionally, a kissing bug bite causes a severe allergic reaction.
Kissing bug bites resurfaced in 2020, but you still need to be aware of them this summer of 2021. Indigenous of South and Central America, this species is formally called triatomine bugs, and they typically bite on the face or lips because they are attracted by breath. According to the CDC, the bug can transmit the Trypanosoma cuzi parasite, which is found in the bug’s feces.
Normally when feeding, the bug generally deposits feces, and if it’s rubbed into the bite wound or into a mucous membrane (for example, the eye or mouth), then the parasite can enter the body. When this happens you can possibly contract Chagas disease, which can cause infection and inflammation of many other body tissues, especially those of the heart and intestinal tract.
Felissa Kreindler, MD, Pediatrician at NorthShore, shares her tips for preventing insect bites and protecting against the illnesses they can cause all summer long: