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With some planning and the right protection, you can get the upper hand with ticks, mosquitoes, biting flies, and spiders.

If you do get bitten, remember that most bug bites can be painful, itchy, red, and swollen -- but they are usually also harmless.

Ticks

A bite from one of these small blood-sucking pests is usually not a big deal, but a bite from the wrong one can be. Ticks can cause diseases such as Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever, a bacterial infection that occurs mostly in the South Atlantic region in the U.S.

The most worrisome areas for Lyme disease in the U.S. are the East Coast, North Central states, and Northern California. Lyme disease is caused by bacteria transmitted by the bite of infected deer ticks (also called black-legged ticks) except on the Pacific coast, where it is spread by the western black-legged tick.

Untreated, Lyme disease can cause serious health problems such as arthritis, meningitis, facial paralysis (known as Bell’s palsy), or other nerve problems such as foot drop, heart problems such as heart irregularities, and visual problems. But getting a prescription antibiotic from your doctor soon after a tick bite can prevent these problems.

Ticks don’t transmit disease until they’ve been attached and feeding for at least 24 hours. So finding and removing them early is the best way to protect against bacteria and viruses.

Ticks live in brushy, wooded, or grassy areas, including grassy dunes. But you don’t have to go hiking or to the beach to run into them.

“Lyme disease is a problem in cities and suburbs in the northeastern United States,” says Daniel Strickman, PhD, national program leader in veterinary, medical, and urban entomology for the USDA Agricultural Research Service. “People value living near forested areas and they value deer, so there’s a lot of human contact with tick habitats even in the cities.”

The most common early symptom of Lyme disease is a bull's-eye rash with a reddish edge at the site of the bite. Flu-like symptoms, occurring within a month of the bite, are also common. Even if these symptoms go away on their own, however, you can still experience more serious health problems.

High season for tick bites is April to October, with most bites occurring in May and June. However, you can get tick bites any time when the temperature is above freezing.

Avoiding Tick Bites

Try these tips:

  • Wear light-colored long pants, so it’s easier to spot ticks.
  • Tuck your pants into your socks or high-top boots or tape them to boots.
  • Wear a hat and long-sleeved shirt, tucked in.
  • Spray or rub insect repellent on the tops of boots, exposed area of socks, and pants openings (inside cuffs, waistband, and fly).
  • Use insect repellant with DEET on your exposed skin.
  • If your pets go outside, check them regularly for ticks so they don't bring them in the house.