Life

Why Summer-Time Pests Can be Dangerous for Your Health and How to Avoid Them

The worst thing these little guys do is not just make us itchy

Nearly everyone has been bitten by a tick, mosquito, or flea, and can agree these pests are a damper on otherwise fun-filled summer activities. What most don't know is that these pests are vectors: carriers of many harmful diseases. These diseases are on the rise in the US, and are expected to become an even larger problem as climate change intensifies. Keep yourself and family informed and safe this summer with the following information on vector-borne diseases and how to avoid annoying and dangerous bug bites.


Vector Borne Disease Transmission in the US

When imagining the world's deadliest animals, pictures of venomous snakes or sharp-toothed sharks come to mind. Globally malaria, which is transmitted by mosquitoes, is responsible for millions of deaths each year (2). While it's not as prevalent in the US, other vector borne diseases like Zika, Dengue, West Nile, Lyme, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and the plague (yes, the plague) are a problem (3).

Mosquitos—Zika,West Nile and Dengue

You may have heard about Zika in the news, as the first cases of transmission in the US in 2016 made national headlines (4). Zika is transmitted primarily through mosquito bites, but can also be contracted through sex with an infected person. The illness is characterized by fever, joint pain, eye-redness, and a rash. Zika can also be transmitted to a fetus through the mother, and this can lead to microcephaly (small head) and other severe birth defects (5). The CDC recommends that expectant mothers, women aiming to become pregnant, and their partners refrain from traveling to areas with Zika outbreaks and take extra precautions to avoid mosquito bites. You can find additional information regarding the CDC's current travel recommendations here.

In the US West Nile virus is the leading cause of mosquito-borne disease, with cases in all 50 states. There are also smaller and limited outbreaks of Dengue in the US as well. Both illnesses are similar in symptom profile: fever, rash, vomiting, and bodily aches and pains. In rare cases, both can become serious, and even fatal, if untreated. Severe Dengue presents with bleeding in the nose, gums, or vomit, and severe West Nile presents with nervous system symptoms such as meningitis (brain inflammation), convulsions, tremors, etc. Similar to Zika, Dengue is typically contracted from travel to US territories with some transmission occurring locally in Southern US states. West Nile transmission, however, is widespread throughout the continental US (6).

Ticks—Lyme Disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

Lyme Disease is the most common vector borne disease in the US accounting for roughly 60% of reported vector-related cases (6). Lyme-infected ticks are found throughout the US, but are most abundant in the Northeast (7). When an infected tick bites, it takes about 36-48 hours of attachment to the body to transmit the disease (7), so vigilance is key to avoiding Lyme! About a week after the bite, most (but not all!) will notice the characteristic "bulls-eye" rash. The other symptoms include swollen lymph nodes, fever, chills, and muscle and joint pain. Pay attention to your body; early treatment of Lyme leads to complete recovery, but leaving it untreated can lead to cases of "chronic Lyme" where symptoms can flare-up long after infection (7).

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF), although less common, can be VERY serious, and deadly if not treated early. RMSF symptoms include a fever along with headaches, upset stomach, and often a splotchy rash (8).

Lyme and RMSF not only affect humans, but can be painful infections for our furry companions. Be sure to check yourself and pets for ticks after being outdoors, especially in woodsy areas! Proper removal and testing of ticks will help with early detection and allow you to enjoy the outdoors this summer!

Fleas—Plague

Although uncommon now with around 15 cases per year in the US, the disease that infamously ravaged Europe's population actually still exists. Plague is transmitted through contact with infected rodents, and bites from infected fleas. Concentrated in rural parts of the Western US, cases present with fever, chills, weakness, and extremely swollen lymph nodes. Prompt medical treatment is crucial for the prevention of serious complications; so, look out for symptoms, especially if your pets are scratching!

US Trends and Climate Change

Occurrence of these diseases in the US has more than tripled between 2004 and 2016 with more than 640,000 reported cases (which is likely a large underestimation) (6). The amount and habits of disease carrying critters highly depend on environmental factors such as temperature, rainfall, and humidity. Many vectors thrive in warm, humid, climates and breed in flood reservoirs. As our planet warms and extreme storms become more abundant, scientists predict a continued increase in vector-borne diseases and possible reintroduction of Malaria or Yellow Fever to the US (6, 10). The Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) state vector borne diseases have emerged in new areas, as more locations become suitable habitats. The "mosquito season" has increased by an average of 40 days in most major US cities. Also, as climate change-induced disasters lead to the mass migrations of people from tropical areas, pathogen carrying pests will have the opportunity migrate as well (11). Caring about our Earth is caring about our health!

How to Protect Yourself

Enough of pesky bugs and scary symptoms— here is how you can enjoy your summer safely!

1) The most crucial way to protect yourself is to seek medical care if you have any of the symptoms listed above after you've spent time outdoors

2) Insect Repellant! Keep the bugs from biting with an effective bug spray!

3) Wear long sleeves and pants outdoors when possible

4) ALWAYS check for ticks after venturing through wooded areas

5) Practice proper lawn/yard care such as mowing the grass frequently, keeping wood/bush trimmings in dry, isolated areas, and eliminating standing water sources near your home

6) Be diligent when traveling! Do your research and take caution when going to equatorial areas

7) Protect your pets! Additional information on pet flea and tick control can be found here.


References:

(1) https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/press/releases/2014/April/some-437000-people-murdered-worldwide-in-2012-according-to-new-unodc-study.html

2) https://www.who.int/neglected_diseases/vector_ecology/mosquito-borne-diseases/en/

3) https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/vector-borne/#anchor_1508427386

4) https://www.cdc.gov/zika/reporting/2016-case-counts.html

5) https://www.cdc.gov/zika/healtheffects/index.html

6) https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/67/wr/mm6717e1.htm

(7) https://www.cdc.gov/lyme/index.html

(8) https://www.cdc.gov/rmsf/communication/rmsf-can-be-deadly.html

(9) https://www.cdc.gov/plague/index.html

(10) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4342958/pdf/rstb20130552.pdf

(11) https://climatenexus.org/climate-issues/health/climate-change-and-vector-borne-diseases/

Roundups

The 13 Best Non-Toxic Baby Sunscreens

Well reviewed, easy to find, and super safe for your little one

It's finally here! We've rounded up the best 13 non-toxic sunscreens baby sunscreens just in time for all your outdoor adventures. We took into account ingredient safety, as well as reviews from parents, and availability at major retailers. Trust us that these options will not result in a goopy disappointment. All 13 of these non-toxic baby sunscreens are safe for baby, toddlers, kids (and you!) and are free from harmful chemicals. They are all reef safe too! Many of these brands also make a stick that can be a lot easier for face application if your baby is extra squirmy, so make sure to check those out too. Hope this makes your summer to-do list just a bit easier!

a) Adorable Baby SPF 30 Sunscreen, b) All Good Kid's Sunscreen SPF 30, c) Aveeno Baby Continuous Protection Sensitive Skin Sunscreen SPF 50 d) Babo Botanicals Baby Skin Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50, e) Badger Baby Natural Mineral Sunscreen Cream SPF 30, f) Bare Republic Baby Mineral Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50, g) California Baby Super Sensitive Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30, h) Coola Baby Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50, i) Made Of Baby Sunscreen SPF 30, j) Sunblocz Baby and Kids Sunscreen SPF 50, k) Thinkbaby Safe Sunscreen SPF 50, l) Tom's of Maine Baby Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30, m) Totlogic Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30


Because Health is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program so that when you click through our Amazon links, a percentage of the proceeds from your purchases will go to Because Health. We encourage you to shop locally, but if you do buy online buying through our links will help us continue the critical environmental health education work we do. Our participation does not influence our product recommendations. To read more about how we recommend products, go to our methodology page.

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Food

Endless Ideas for Healthy Homemade Popsicles (No Recipe Needed!)

A refreshing family friendly treat, without added food colorings, cane sugar, or plastic packaging.

Popsicles are such a fun treat for adults and kids whenever it gets hot outside! We put together a fun graphic where you can make your own recipe for a healthy homemade popsicle, using whatever you have on hand. We make all sorts of popsicles from leftover fruit, veggies, juices that we have laying around. It's a great way to use up that half of a banana or browning avocado that your kid didn't eat. And instead of becoming food waste (which is a huge contributor to climate change), it gets new life as an amazing treat. We like these silicone or stainless steel popsicle molds, cause they are super durable and we generally try to avoid plastics and food. Making your own popsicles is a great way to have fun, while being non-toxic. Many store bought popsicles contain load of cane sugar, food colorings, other additives, and plastic packaging. So pick one up a popsicle mold, choose a combination of tasty ingredients, blend, freeze, and enjoy!

In case you need some ideas to get started, here are some of our favorites:

Chocolate Fudge: Cocoa powder, avocado (or banana), coconut milk, and honey/maple syrup

Watermelon Strawberry Mint: Watermelon, Strawberries, Coconut water, and Mint

Spinach Blueberry Yogurt: Spinach, Blueberry, Banana, and Yogurt

Creamy Zucchini Pineapple: Zucchini, Pineapple, and Coconut milk

*A special tip on mixing colors. Mixing leafy greens with red or orange fruits/veggies (like carrot juice or strawberries) makes for a pretty brown popsicle. It will still taste good, but might not look as appetizing!


Roundups

Non-Toxic Aftershaves

Cause who wants questionable chemicals on a freshly shaven face?

Whether aftershave is part of your shaving routine for the manly (and fabulous!) scents or to help your skin recover, you probably don't want an aftershave with questionable ingredients or preservatives. This is especially true because the main purpose of aftershave is to calm down any skin irritation and disinfect any small nicks (oops!) you accidentally gave yourself. We also included two options for witch hazel toners that are an all natural, affordable option that calms inflammation and disinfects. We found 7 non-toxic aftershaves and witch hazel toners that have good ingredients, good reviews, and are easy to buy at major retailers. So pick up one up and incorporate it into your morning routine and your skin will thank you!

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Family

5 Easy Changes to Protect Your Sperm from Harmful Chemicals

Keep your swimmers safe with these science-based tips

Hey, guys, yeah all you sperm producing humans out there. Hate to break it to you, but when it comes to different chemicals in our world, your little swimmers might not be as safe as you think. While it's true that you continually are creating new sperm, if you are exposed to some of these nasty things on a regular basis, chances are high that they are affecting both the quality and quantity of your sperm. Even if you aren't planning to have a kid right now, these things could make it harder for you to conceive a kid in the future and research has linked sperm health to overall health. But, hang tight. We have some super simple suggestions for ways to change up your routine that can protect your sperm for years to come.

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Home

What to Know Before Your Next Big DIY Project

Protect your health without sacrificing creativity!

Whether you're inspired by a recent Etsy binge or are a Weekend Warrior who practically lives at Home Depot, DIY projects can be super fun and fulfilling. Before you get started on your next project, we have some tips on what chemicals to avoid, the safety hazards they pose, and ways to keep yourself safe.




Avoid Methylene chloride

It's always fun to spruce up furniture with a new coat of paint but methylene chloride, a seriously dangerous chemical, is found in paint stripping products. In the body methylene chloride turns into carbon monoxide (1), and too much carbon monoxide can cause dizziness, confusion, and asphyxia. Methylene chloride fumes quickly accumulate and are heavier than air, which means workers bending down over projects in poorly ventilated areas are easily susceptible to the dangers of this chemical (2). There have been many accidental deaths from Methylene chloride, so you should completely avoid paint strippers that use it. Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families has created a great reference on safer alternative for paint strippers.

Paint

Before you pick up your paint brush to tackle that dresser revamp, make sure the paint you're using is low VOCs. VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, are chemicals that are emitted as gasses from products like paint and can cause headaches, eye irritation, and nausea (3). VOCs are part of the reason paint can be so smelly when it's drying! Look for a paint that says low or no VOCs on the packaging and make sure to keep the windows open while the paint is drying!

Wood Stains

Updating your wood table or decking? Reach for a water-based wood stain or finish! Traditional wood stains can contain harsh chemicals and emit a ton of VOCs. Luckily a lot of brands have a VOC rating on their label, which makes choosing a product a lot easier. We recommend choosing a stain with low VOCs (under 250 g/l) that is also Green Seal 11 (GS-11) certified (4).

Always Have Proper Ventilation

This is key for any DIY project. Chances are, you'll probably use some chemicals that are not great for you during your project. The best place to work on your project is outside but if you have to work indoor, make sure to open windows and doors, and use a fan to ventilate the area.

Wear a Protective Mask

DIY projects can expose you to a TON of dust, which is why it's a good idea to always wear a protective mask. Dust is bad for you in general, and can also contain particles containing toxic chemicals, which is why we recommend using an N95 mask while working. Normal masks can help protect you, but they don't protect you from all dust. N95 masks filter even the tiniest particles (0.3 microns) (5), which can keep you safe during those extremely messy projects.




  1. https://saferchemicals.org/get-the-facts/chemicals-of-concern/methylene-chloride/
  2. https://prheucsf.blog/2017/11/14/risky-paint-stripper-will-continue-to-kill-while-epa-delays/
  3. https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/volatile-organic-compounds-impact-indoor-air-quality#Levels
  4. https://www.ewg.org/healthyhomeguide/wood-stains-a...
  5. https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/personal-protective-equipment-infection-control/masks-and-n95-respirators

Now that you've invested in some glass and stainless steel food storage containers, maybe you're wondering if you should Marie Kondo all the plastic ones you used to use? Instead adding them to the landfill, what if we told you that all those plastic containers can help you achieve a new level of organization zen? While we don't recommend storing food in them anymore (for those of you who haven't heard: these plastic food storage containers often have BPA or phthalates in them, which can leach into your food over time and cause all sorts of health problems), we also don't think you have to throw them away.

So, what can you do? We have 6 great suggestions for you to repurpose those containers throughout your home.



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Roundups

6 Non-Toxic and Plastic-Free Shampoos

We found 5 shampoo bars and 1 refillable option

We've had a lot of asks for products with sustainable packaging. We heard you! Sustainable, non-toxic, well-reviewed products are actually harder to find than you think. Who knew? But we did a ton of research and found some great options! We searched high and wide and found these 5 non-toxic shampoo bars and one refillable shampoo that comes in an aluminum bottle. These shampoo products are a great way to reduce your plastic consumption without compromising on safe ingredients. A win-win in our book for the planet and your health!

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