Ready to head outdoors? Your bug spray may be killing you!

Ready to head outdoors? Your bug spray may be killing you!

Lyme Disease and the growing menace of bugs.

Vectors are living organisms that can transmit infectious diseases between humans or from animals to humans. Many of these vectors are bloodsucking insects, which ingest disease-producing microorganisms during a blood meal from an infected host (human or animal) and later inject it into a new host during their subsequent blood meal. Mosquitoes are the best known disease vector. Others include sandflies, triatomine bugs, black flies, ticks, tsetse flies, mites, snails and lice. Every year there are more than 700 000 deaths from diseases such as malaria, dengue, schistosomiasis, human African trypanosomiasis, leishmaniasis, Chagas disease, yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis and onchocerciasis, globally.

The major vector-borne diseases, together, account for around 17% of all infectious diseases. The burden of these diseases is highest in tropical and subtropical areas and they disproportionately affect the poorest populations. Since 2014, major outbreaks of dengue, malaria, chikungunya, yellow fever and Zika have afflicted populations, claimed lives and overwhelmed health systems in many countries.

Lyme Disease is the most commonly reported insect-borne disease that is prevalent in the United States. It’s caused by ticks and the early warning signs include the classic ‘bullseye’ rash along with fever, headaches, muscle and joint aches, and swollen lymph nodes. The northern states and the New England area in particular had some of the highest number of cases. Pennsylvania had the highest at over 7,000. New Jersey and New York were second and third, respectively, with over 3,000 reported cases.

The second most common insect-borne disease out of the four is West Nile Virus. According to the CDC, between 70-80% of people infected do not show symptoms. Those who do often get a fever along with headaches, joint aches, body aches, a rash, vomiting, and diarrhoea. Those 60 years or old are at greater risk from the disease. The disease, carried by mosquitos, is most reported in California with a bit over 400 reported cases, according to the most recent data. Texas was the next highest at just over 350 cases.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is carried by ticks and is the third most common out of the group. The early signs and symptoms are fever, headache, rash, nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, muscle pain, and lack of appetite. The disease can be deadly if not treated properly. North Carolina has the highest number of reported cases with over 500. Oklahoma and Arkansas are second and third with just shy of 200 reported cases.

Zika Virus has been a hot topic in the news over the last few years, mostly because of the heartbreaking effects on pregnant women and their babies. However, it is the least reported out of the four diseases we researched. According to the latest report, there were only 121 reported cases in the United States. The CDC says that many people do not develop signs or symptoms from the disease. There is no specific medicine for Zika, but a blood or urine test can confirm diagnosis.

Insects can carry harmful diseases, specifically mosquitos and ticks. Traditionally, DEET has been used as a means to ward off these bugs. DEET is an insect repellent that is used in products to prevent bites from insects such as mosquitoes, biting flies, fleas and small flying insects. DEET is a colorless liquid that has a faint odor and does not dissolve easily in water. DEET was developed by the U.S. Army in 1946 for protection of soldiers in insect-infested areas. Insect repellents containing DEET have been used by the general public in the United States since 1957.

However, when products containing DEET get into the eyes, they may cause irritation, pain and watery eyes. People that have left DEET products on their skin for extended periods of time have experienced irritation, redness, a rash, and swelling. People that have swallowed products containing DEET have experienced stomach upset, vomiting, and nausea. Very rarely, exposure to DEET has been associated with seizures in people. Most of these reactions have happened after drinking products with DEET in them or using the products in ways that do not follow label directions.

Reports of pets being exposed to DEET in amounts that would make them sick are rare. Pets that have been overexposed to DEET have shown varying effects, including vomiting, shaking, excitement, lack of coordination, and seizures. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has recommended that DEET not be used on children younger than 2 months of age. The AAP has also recommended that DEET should be applied no more than one time per day for children older than two months, and that products should be used on children that have the lowest DEET concentration available. The AAP has cautioned parents not to use DEET on the hands of children and to avoid applying it to areas around children's eyes and mouths.

However, Permethrin, and clothes coated in Permethrin have proven to be a safe and effective bug protective element. The active ingredient that is used for insect proofing in today’s wearables is permethrin. It is way more toxic to insects than it is to warm blooded creatures, which is why it is recommended by the World Health Organization as public health pesticide.

Clothing, shoes, bed nets, and camping gear can be treated with a pesticide called permethrin to kill or repel insects such as mosquitoes and ticks. Clothing and other products can be purchased pre-treated, or products can be treated using EPA-registered products. The U.S. Military has been using permethrin to treat combat uniforms for over 20 years to protect soldiers from diseases carried by insects.

Permethrin is the only pesticide approved by the EPA for these uses. When it is applied properly, permethrin binds tightly to the fabrics, resulting in little loss during washing and minimal transfer to the skin. Permethrin is poorly absorbed through the skin, although sunscreens and other products may increase the rate of skin absorption.

The technology works on most any fabric as long as you don't have the garments dry-cleaned. You can buy the goods online from a variety of outdoor gear Websites, and you have a plethora of duds to choose from. Most of the garments are suited for the outdoor enthusiast -- pullovers, cargo pants, bandanas, hoodies and fishing vests. They also offer visors, floppy hats and a line of kid's clothing. You won't know any difference between clothes treated with permethrin and regular clothes either, aside from being bug-free. The U.S. Army uses Insect Shield, but it's not been shown to reduce the number of mosquito-born illnesses.

The clothing has been shown to be fairly effective at warding off insects where your skin isn't covered with the clothing as well. So if you have on a short-sleeved insect shield shirt and a hat, you'll get good coverage for your arms and neck as well. How much do these clothes cost? Not a whole lot more than your standard outdoor gear, which isn't too cheap to begin with. How much does it offer you in terms of a protected lifestyle? Think about it and you will get your answer!

Author Info: Amanda Worstein

Amanda Worstein is a travel blogger / adventurist / anthropologist presently documenting the lives of aborigines in southern Australia. Amanda’s special focus of research is the non-prevalence of vector-borne diseases in these tribes. Of particular interest to her are the mortality rates caused by bug borne diseases and their relative rise across the globe.