Summer's officially here, and after some crazy winter weather, we are more than ready to pack up the camping gear for a weekend in the woods or head to the park for a picnic. As we humans keep putting more global warming gases into the air, there's no doubt - it's gettin' weird out there. Did you hear about that day when it was nearly 100 degrees and then snowed two days later ... in Oklahoma? Or when Hawaii got 50 inches of rain in just 24 hours? How about the tick that can make you allergic to meat? While the winters have been crazy, they're also getting shorter and that's changing the way we live, work, and play every day - especially when it comes to the bugs and plants around us. The weird weather stories may grab headlines, but it's the subtle changes around your home that can affect your health. Here's what you need to know about how climate change is making pests and plants more pesky and what you can do to protect yourself and your family.
More Bugs that BiteGiphy
As the Northeast is losing those long, cold winters that often keep pests in check, fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes are spreading further north. With more rain and humidity throughout the summer, the weather is creating perfect habitats for mosquitoes to breed. If you don't believe it, the CDC says that reports of flea-, tick-, and mosquito-related diseases have tripled over the past 13 years. This is scary because ticks carry lyme disease, mosquitoes carry West Nile and Zika, and fleas might carry plague - yeah that historic disease that everyone thought was gone for good. Well, maybe not. The CDC has documented a few cases of plague in the Southwest from people getting bitten by fleas.
The good news is, there are some things you can do to protect yourself and your family from these annoying little bugs:
- Wear pants, long-sleeved shirts, and hats while outdoors. If you are in tall grass or the woods, tuck your pants into your socks to block off entry points for ticks. Light loose clothing will keep you cool, and give you an excuse (as if you really need one) to add a few new items to your closet.
- If that just isn't going to fly in your home, applying insect repellent is another way to stay safe. If you're concerned about health impacts from deet (which is still the recommended option for staying safe from insects) and other chemicals, repellents can be applied to clothing instead of directly onto skin, and minimally to exposed areas. Some essential oils might also help. The least toxic alternatives to deet include lemon eucalyptus oil and soybean oil or synthetic chemicals like picardin and IR-3535. If you choose essential oils, make sure you conduct an allergy test on a small spot of your skin before committing fully. Most essential oil repellents have been found to be effective for only about an hour, so apply often!
- Limit time outdoors around dusk when mosquitoes are most active. Around your house, empty any containers, like planters, dog bowls, and kiddie pools that hold standing water (mosquitoes only need a soda bottle cap of water to breed) or use floor fans during your summer barbecue to deter mosquitoes and keep cool. Around the yard, consider these fives steps to make it less hospitable to ticks and fleas.
- Fleas are more of a threat to our pets, and we definitely want to keep our four-legged family members safe from tapeworms and cat-scratch diseases. So, be sure to protect them with some safe options and talk to your vet.
- Finally, do a thorough check for ticks and fleas when you get back inside, and wash off any repellents you used with a shower or soap and water. Ticks like to burrow in hair and soft spots like the back of your knees. If you do find a tick, follow these steps to carefully remove it and clean the bite site. If you see a bull's eye shaped rash appear or the area becomes irritated over the next few weeks, go see your doctor. Let him or her know you were bitten by a tick. Most cases of Lyme disease can be successfully treated with antibiotics when caught early.
Bigger, Badder Poison IvyGiphy
It's not just bugs to beware of - Climate change is bringing the Little Shop of Horrors to life in your backyard. Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac are becoming stronger and more common with climate change. Carbon dioxide is like superfood for poison ivy, making it grow bigger and faster. Bigger plants mean more leaves and more urushiol, the oil that causes the itching, burning, and blisters millions of people experience.
What you can do:
- Protective clothing and a watchful eye are the best defense. Learn how to spot the poisonous plants, and make sure you and your pets avoid them.
- If you're exposed, you probably won't know it for a few hours, so it's important to wash your skin thoroughly with cold water. Once you've washed the oils off (some suggest trying a non-toxic dish soap or rubbing alcohol after a wash to remove any remaining oil), you won't be contagious anymore. You can treat the rash with calamine lotion or hydrocortisone, both of which are commonly available in your local drug store. Particularly sensitive individuals may need to seek medical assistance.
- It's also important to thoroughly wash any clothes or camping gear that may have brushed against the plants with non-toxic laundry detergent. If you took your dog to the woods with you, it's best to give him or her a bath when you get home, too. Oils that get absorbed into the fabrics or are on your dog's fur can continue to spread until they are removed.