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

Non-Toxic Bathroom Cleaners

products you can buy to make your bathroom squeaky clean without dangerous fumes

Nobody likes doing it, but it's got to be done! Cleaning the bathroom doesn't have to be gross or involve lots of chemicals with dangerous fumes that leave your eyes teary and your head hurting. You can use an all purpose cleaner on most surfaces in the bathroom, but sometimes you need a little extra oomph to get rid of hard water stains and mold or mildew. Every now and then we also find ourselves needing to clear the drains too! We checked out all the lists and figured out which bathroom cleaning products are the safest and effective.

In addition to these products, we also love using a simple non-toxic all purpose cleaner and have lots of DIY cleaner recipes for getting your bathroom squeaky clean.

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Healthy eating should be about more than just healthy ingredients! While there are many different specific diets, most definitions of healthy eating involve choosing fresh, nutrient-dense whole foods that provide maximal nutritional benefits. Refined grains, sugar, vegetable oils, and other unhealthy ingredients are left off the plate. But if healthy ingredients become contaminated with harmful chemicals, are they really healthy? It is time for healthy eating to incorporate more than just ingredients. Healthy eating should also include how the food is packaged and what materials the food comes into contact with while it is being processed, cooked, and stored.
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Roundups

The Best Non-Toxic Dish Soaps

Healthy, safe, and effective grease-cutting dish soap power

Updated for 2021!

Get your dishes clean without worrying about the chemicals in your dish soap. We rounded up the top 6 dish soaps without toxic chemicals or preservatives that are well-reviewed and easily available. You're welcome! We've had some questions about whether parents need a separate soap specifically for bottles and dishes. With these 6 picks, you can be rest assured that they will work well on your dinner plates but are also safe enough for baby bottles and toddler dishes. Also, for all the dishes you choose not to hand wash, take a peek at our dishwasher detergent roundup.

a) Attitude Dishwashing Liquid

b) Aunt Fannie's Microcosmic Probiotic Power Dish Soap

c) Better Life Dish Soap

d) ECOS Dishmate Dish Liquid

e) Common Good dish soap

f) Cleancult liquid dish soap

g) Trader Joe's Dish Soap Lavender Tea Tree


We rely on EWG's consumer databases, the Think Dirty App, and GoodGuide in addition to consumer reviews and widespread availability of products to generate these recommendations. Learn more on our methodology page.

*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.

Roundups

Eco-Friendly and Reusable Gift Wrapping Ideas

Spread holiday cheer without creating waste!

Since this is a safe space we can admit that one of the best parts about the holidays is the presents, right? But the amount of wrapping paper we go through every year is just insane... and most of it isn't even recyclable! Unless "recyclable" is specifically mentioned on the label, you'll have to throw used wrapping paper into the trash. And sometimes, we could do without that mountain of used wrapping paper after presents have been opened, even if it is the recyclable kind.
That's why we wanted to find the best wrapping options that could actually be recycled or reused year to year! Check out these great alternatives to tranditonal wrapping paper!


a) 2 Pieces Christmas Canvas Tote Bags Buffalo Plaid Check Shopping Bags

b) joywrap

c) Hallmark Recyclable Kraft Wrapping Paper

d) Eco-Friendly Reversible Wrapping Paper

e) Hallmark Reusable Fabric Gift Wrap

f) Hallmark Black and Red Drawstring Gift Bag Set


g) Furoshiki Reusable Gift Wrapping Cloth


h) Organic Cotton Reusable Gift Wrap (Set of 3)

i) Brown Kraft Paper Jumbo Roll

Looking for non-toxic, sustainable, and fun gifts for your home chef? We created a gift guide this year for those people on your list who love cooking and hosting. Whether it's elaborate dinner parties or weeknight meals, these gifts are sure to bring some joys in the new year. We looked for gifts that avoided waste (like a stovetop popcorn maker), or that avoided harmful chemicals (like a cast iron skillet), or that could bring a little fun into the kitchen (like these fabulous cloth napkins).

This year, we have highlighted many products by many Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) owned/founded brands. Buying from these brands is a great way to support economic opportunities in BIPOC communities and celebrates diversity in the sustainability space. Additionally, since climate change is an urgent issue with so many health impacts, we are also highlighting brands that are Climate Neutral certified. That means that the brand has committed to measure, offset, and reduce the carbon they emit. We believe that consumers and companies must work together to embrace and make true commitments to diversity and sustainability. Look no further for the ultimate gift guide!

$: Under $50

Handheld milk frother

This stainless steel milk frother is the perfect way to warm up your milk (or milk alternative) without having to sacrifice counter space! Whether you're drinking coffee or matcha, this it the perfect tool to take things up a notch.

Vegetable Kingdom: The Abundant World of Vegan Recipes (BIPOC brand)

Want to eat less meat, but don't know how to make vegetable dishes stand out? Step up your cooking game with delicious recipes from this unique cookbook from Bryant Terry. Bryant is renowned for his activism and efforts to create a healthy, equitable, and sustainable food system, so this cookbook is right up our alley.

Mother Grains: Recipes for the Grain Revolution (BIPOC brand)

Looking to up your whole grain intake? Expand your baking skills with Mother Grains: Recipes for the Grain Revolution. You'll be amazed how a simple cookie can change texture and flavor based on the flours you use. Learn about the world of ancient grains like buckwheat, sorghum, rye, barley, and heirloom wheat and bake some delicious treats.

GreenLife Bakeware Healthy Ceramic Nonstick, Muffin Pan

This ceramic baking pan by GreenLife is non-stick without harmful chemicals and comes in a bunch of cute colors. Weekend muffins are calling you!

Great Northern Popcorn Original Stainless Steel Stove Top Popcorn Popper

Microwave popcorn is expensive and the bags are coated in Teflon like chemicals, but it's so convenient. Enter this amazing popcorn maker. You'll never look at microwaved popcorn the same way after you use this Great Northern stovetop popcorn popper! It's stainless steel body perfectly cooks kernels to tasty perfection.

Heath Ceramics large coffee mug

Elevate your morning coffee with this beautifully crafted mug from Heath Ceramics. It comes in many lead-free glazes and is as sturdy as it is beautiful.

$ $: Between $50-100

Hamilton Beach Belgian Waffle Maker

Sunday brunch just got so much better with this waffle maker by Hamilton Beach. Most waffle makers use a Teflon-like coating in their waffle makers, but this waffle maker uses a ceramic non-stick. It's really easy to use and the ceramic grids pop out for easy cleaning.

Diaspora Co. Single-Origin Spices (BIPOC brand)

Spices can make or break a dish, which is why we love upgrading our spice drawer with this set of single origin spices from Diaspora. We love that they pay a living wage to partner farmers and their partner model allows them to provide quality control that results in fresher, more delicious spices. That also means that they can also better control potential contamination and test for lead contamination. They are also working on organic certification for their partner farms.

Emile Henry Deep Food Storage Bowl

Who says food storage has to be boring? Beauty meets function with this deep food storage bowl by Emile Henry. The cork top serves as a fruit bowl, while the lower level with vents and darkness acts as a mini pantry to store root vegetables and onions.

Siafu Home Congolese Napkins

The scalloped edge and fun pattern of these napkins make them a great hostess gift! These are screen printed by hand in Kenya and are a great way to add some color to your table.

$ $ $: Over $100

Graf Lantz Felt Placemats

These sturdy place mats will protect your table from the messiest of eaters! The merino wool material is naturally water and odor resistant, and also offers amazing thermal protection.

Olivewood Serving Board

These hand-carved cheese boards are made from a single piece of olivewood, which means no glues or adhesives are added to the wood. They are the perfect backdrop to your next charcuterie board.

East Fork Serving Bowl (Climate Neutral certified)

This handmade pottery serving bowl from East Fork is perfect for all your serving need- whether it's for movie night popcorn or a salad at a dinner party for 10!

Brightland Olive Oil Duo (BIPOC brand)

There's a reason you've seen Brightland all over social, it's high quality olive oil and beautiful bottle make it a star! The Duo set is the perfect way to try two of their most popular flavors! The olives come from a family-run California farm that does not use pesticides and is committed to organic practices.

Le Creuset Cast Iron Skillet

Le Creuset is known for it's quality and beautiful color choices and this enameled cast iron skillet is no exception! This pan will last you a lifetime and is naturally non-stick enough for scrambles and fried eggs. No Teflon chemicals needed.

Fellow coffee Pour Over Coffee and Electric Kettle

This Fellow electric kettle and pour over set are perfect companions for your coffee! These products don't contain any plastic and will make you feel like a certified barista.

Life

Artificial or Real Christmas Tree? What's better for you and the environment.

What toxic chemicals are in artificial Christmas trees and tips for how to stay safe

Artificial Christmas trees are becoming increasingly popular for families. They're seen as being convenient since they don't shed needles and can be reused year after year. Some even come with lights already on them! But is the convenience of artificial Christmas trees worth it? We break down the science and the pros and cons of artificial Christmas trees and farm grown real Christmas trees to help you have a healthy and sustainable Christmas!

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Life

Buying holiday decorations? Here's what you should know

Don't let these chemicals ruin your holiday cheer

You may need to be careful rockin' around the Christmas tree this year! Why you ask? Well, there might be some unexpected chemicals in that holly jolly decoration above your head. Holiday decorations can bring great cheer, but sometimes they can contain an unwanted surprise. Some decorations may be made with toxic chemicals - keep a look out for the ones below!
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