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Bugs that bite can be beaten
A common cat flea plagues pets and people alike, especially in the summer months. Ticks not only work their way into Fido's fur, but can pass disease to humans as well. Tiger mosquitoes carry a sting and serious illness. - photo by Susan Ellis/Joseph Berger/Gary Alpert

It's the pit of summer in Georgia and you've got two options: Crank up the air conditioning and stay inside or go outside and battle the heat.

And if you plan to stay outdoors for any length of time, you might want to apply the insect repellent.

"Mosquitoes are prevalent this time of year. This type of weather is perfect for them," said Raymond Noblet, head of the University of Georgia's department of entomology.

"It's hot, very humid, with quite a bit of rain showers (popping up) and water standing around here and there."

The mosquito isn't the only summer critter to draw concern.

"This time of year, the flea is king and (the problem is) only going to get bigger and bigger until cold weather," said Dr. John Sundstrom, a Gainesville veterinarian.

But while there may be no way to beat the heat outdoors, battling bugs is much easier.

"All the repellents now are quite safe and (readily available)," Noblet said. "Just a little bit of it sprayed around your clothing or around a baseball cap can repel them quite well for a number of hours."

Also quite effective, but much less desirable for most folks, is wearing long-sleeve shirts and pants.

"That's not something people are glad to hear, but it does provide good protection, particularly from ticks," Noblet said.

"Ticks tend to get on your legs and arms as you're walking in wooded, brushy areas. If you've got on long pants, they are much less likely to attach to you and bite you before you get home and take a shower."

Flea-prevention medicines also can be quite effective, with regular applications, Sundstrom said.

"There is some really good stuff out there. Some are better than others," he said.

"There are cheaper things out there and sometimes not as effective and ... not as safe, especially with cats. They are such peculiar little beasts when it comes to what medicines they can and can't handle."

Not using such products, either for personal care or pets, could increase the chance for potentially serious diseases and infestations.

The wrong mosquito bite could mean a case of West Nile virus.

"It is still around and there a few active cases, and some years it is more prevalent than others," Noblet said.

However, "the biggest threat (from mosquitoes) is the annoyance and the discomfort and just being plagued by them."

Ticks can transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease.

"The key is if you get a tick bite and you know it was a tick bite, and you get ill and have flu-like symptoms - fever, headache, nausea, that kind of thing - make sure you go to the doctor and tell them you have a tick bite," Noblet said.

Rocky Mountain is not such a daunting threat as it once was, as effective drugs have been developed, if caught in time. Lyme disease is more prevalent, said Noblet, who has a good friend in Pendleton, S.C., stricken by it last year.

"It can sneak up on you," he said.

The disease is characterized at first by a skin rash, headache and fever but can lead to neurological damage and cardiac problems.

Ticks can be problematic for animals, as well, causing the same diseases they do in people, Sundstrom said.

Tick season has played itself out nearly, with vets now worrying more about fleas. August through October is prime time for these wingless, blood-sucking insects.

Untreated pets can bring the insects indoors and cause a serious headache for homeowners. Aside from scratching away at flea bites, people may have to resort to foggers and other chemicals to rid their homes of the fast-hatching pests.

Mosquitoes can cause potentially fatal heartworm disease to animals, most commonly dogs.

The good news about mosquitoes is that their season of causing grief - some scientists believe their eradication wouldn't seriously affect any ecosystems - has just a couple months more to play out.

"Mosquitoes dwindle away in the fall, usually in late October or early November and then we have a winter respite," Noblet said. "By springtime, however, they show back up."



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