BUG OUT! WHY MOUNTAIN ALTITUDE IS NOT A BUG BARRIER
Does the thought of a bug bite, or something creepy crawly in your bed or sleeping bag, well…bug you out? (pun intended-- -EEEWWW!)
One of the biggest myths I hear is that bugs don’t live at altitude. Unlike more humid areas like the East Coast, the Midwest (especially Illinois, where I’m from) and of course the southern U.S where they grow bugs so large you can ride them to work or school, it seems there is this misconception that bugs can't breathe/live/function well in the upper altitudes of the Rocky Mountains.
So sorry I am going to ruin this “false security” bliss for you…. bugs do live up here in Summit County. In fact, they can thrive and survive from Aspen to Vail, Breckenridge to Keystone, Frisco and the Blue River region, and many other high altitude areas across the world. We have lots of little critters that like these beautiful mountains just like you and I do.
WHAT KIND OF BUGS LIVE IN SUMMIT COUNTY?
According to the State of Colorado Insect Database, there are 368 insects, bugs, critters and other little guys calling the Centennial State their own. You can see those here: Colorado Insect Identification Website
We wont talk about all of them, just the ones that have been proven to cause the most harm or at least inflict significant discomfort for you and your skin.
As a Derm-nerd, I am passionate about making sure skin is in the best possible healthy condition at all times. In doing this, many people often focus on sun protection, dryness and brown spots which are all extremely important. Yet an infestation with any of these critters will definitely affect your enjoyment of the great outdoors and, to be brutally honest, life in general for you and possibly those around you.
Here are some insects, mites, and spiders that are known to bite and/or cause skin irritations or rashes:
BUG NUMBER 1 - LICE
Yep, that childhood annoyance and pest is back in the news and now it is not just an inconvenient gift that affects kids. There has been an increasing number of adults getting and spreading this nasty infestation (specifically on the scalp, also known as head lice) and I was shocked to learn how social media is involved in this epidemic during a lecture at the Society of Dermatology Physician Assistants conference in San Diego this past June: Selfies!!! That’s right…. the next time someone wants to snuggle up next to you to get that amazing photo captured on their cell phone, you may want to do a quick exam of their scalp!
How to know if you have Lice? Most infected individuals experience a creepy crawly feeling or persistent itchiness on their scalp/body and it is important to remember that lice can truly show up on any area of the body where there is hair.
Also, the eye test. Seeing lice or eggs (nits) in your hair.
Rule Number 1 – Don’t freak out.
If your scalp or any other area on your body looks like the above picture, don't scratch the area or share hairbrushes/hats/anything that has been in contact with the infested area with anyone else.
These guys usually come from human to human contact, which is why kids in school are notorious in spreading these suckers. But with the explosion of taking pictures of EVERYTHING YOU DO in social media, so could your best friend or significant other. Just saying….
Also, once they make it home to the couch, bed, or other clothing, they can move around like fire ants once you step on their home hill.
Rule Number 2 - Don’t risk unproven treatments.
There are a lot of YouTube videos showing how to get rid of lice, including everything from herbal remedies to whacked out home-made solutions and oil-based skin coating.
The resistance factor for multiple over-the- counter treatments becomes more of an issue each year and even some prescription-strength treatments will take more than one application to effectively end the infestation. Check out this article that gives more information on this topic: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/03/09/super-lice- resistant-to- chemical/6239413/
My advice is similar to that given in this article which is to seek help with your local dermatology provider as soon as possible to confirm the diagnosis and get a treatment regimen started as recommended by that provider before this critter wreaks havoc on your whole family/other close contacts.
Although there are no life-threatening health concerns, this condition WILL cause an upheaval in your life and the lives of those around you. Lice do suck your blood and the scabs or sores that result from the individual scratching (the itching can be severely intense for some people!) could lead to more serious bacterial skin disorders like Impetigo.
DON’T LET THE BED BUGS BITE - NUMBER 2 VILLAIN IN SUMMIT COUNTY
You know that saying your mom always told you? Or was it your aunt? No wait, I think it was Grandma. Either way, it was “don't let the bed bugs bite” yeah, yeah, yeah. Well guess what? They do, and they are making a comeback.
Let’s be real…. bed bugs are just gross, not necessarily dangerous. Like lice, they do suck your blood and then return to their little dens inside mattresses, clothes, backpacks, creases in carpet and even cracks in walls before they decide to go on a field trip, moving easily from human host to human host. Yuck!
Since Summit County is a hugely popular travel destination, lots of vacationers, day travelers, campers and tourists come through each year (approximately 2 million annually per recent estimates) so bed bugs can easily catch a free ride in their suitcase or clothing and head to the next hotel, restaurant, or even your home to party with you.
Don’t assume bed bugs are a sign of a filthy establishment or if you have them in your home that you are dirty. Bed bugs are just that, bugs. And as long as we live on the earth, we get to deal with bugs.
SYMPTOMS OF GETTING A BITE FROM YOUR NOT SO BFF BED BUG
Bed bugs don't bite and you scream OUCH!!!! Often times, you may have been bitten and not know it for days to come. However, when you have red, itchy and burning bumps, you might be a victim. But check this out…there are theories that bed bugs are at least polite enough to excrete a type of anesthesia as they bite you, although none have been definitively identified.
The biggest problem with bed bugs is that they are small and like to lay eggs, so what starts off as a few can turn into way too many and then you may have to involve an exterminator for expert removal.
If you are subject to bed bug bites, there is no current evidence suggesting they transmit disease to humans. You do however need to manage the bites and make sure your skin doesn't get infected. The good news is that if you want to see how many establishments have reported infestations, there is a registry - who knew? You can check that out here: http://www.bedbugregistry.com. This is one of those times where I wish I didn’t know as much as I do…WOW!
THE NUMBER ONE BUG BITER PROBLEM IN SUMMIT COUNTY
So, we saved unfortunately, the best for last. Unlike our previous two biting bugs in Summit County, this guy can be a real pest. Get it, pest? Okay, so bug humor isn't exactly my specialty. But the side effects from an encounter with any one of these mighty midgets we have talked about today is.
TICKS ARE LIKE VAMPIRES. THEY JUST WANT TO SUCK YOUR BLOOD
Ticks are blood-feeding parasites of animals found throughout Colorado. They can also be particularly common at higher elevations. See there? Higher elevations. This is why I said don’t be fooled by uneducated internet fodder as higher altitude can bring dangers besides the sun.
Locally, ticks are dangerous because they can transmit disease. Colorado tick fever, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia and Lyme disease are all possible gifts from ticks that decide to hitch a ride on your skin during warm-weather outdoor adventures.
SOME REAL DANGERS FROM REAL TICKS - LYME AND PARALYSIS
According to the CSU Extension here are some of the issues from ticks. http://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/insects/colorado- ticks-and- tick-borne- diseases-5-593/ (This is a great overview of ticks but please note this article is from 2014 and there have been cases of Lyme disease in Colorado since this article was written)
A rare but potentially serious condition from tick feeding is tick paralysis. This occurs when certain ticks (in Colorado, particularly the Rocky Mountain wood tick) remain attached for a long period and produce an ascending paralysis.
Early symptoms, such as difficulty walking, progress to more generalized symptoms, such as limb numbness and difficulty breathing.
This condition is generally completely reversible within 24-48 hours when the tick is removed. Proceed to your local Emergency Room immediately if any symptoms such as those described above develop after being outdoors (usually about 4-7 days after potential tick encounter).
TICKS LIKE TO HANG OUT ON VEGETATION WAITING FOR YOU TO PASS BY
Up here in the hills of Breckenridge, Frisco, Keystone, Vail, and Summit County, ticks like to make their way to the top of vegetation and then grab that free ride to making your life miserable, specifically in wooded areas and thick shrubs. Ticks do like spring and summer most. Apparently they aren't too into snowboarding. Oh well, more EPIC passes for everyone else.
GETTING RID OF THOSE TICKS AND CARING FOR A BITE
Okay, so you've got a tick, or maybe you have a friend who has a tick. Here’s how to get rid of them. Be careful as they have barbed mouths and embed in the skin.
1. TWEEZERS - get as close to their mouth as possible and pinch and pull with steady, even traction without crushing the sucker.
2. If you don’t have tweezers or any of the over-the- counter tick removal devices (i.e The Tick Key, Ticked Off, etc) and you must remove this vampire by hand, wear gloves and squeeze/pull carefully until the tick is free from the skin. Then make sure you wash your hands immediately.
CARING FOR A TICK BITE
Depending on how long you have ben hosting the tick, you may need to seek medical attention. The longer the tick stays, the bigger your risk for transfer of disease. The safest advice is that you should seek medical attention if a tick is found embedded in the skin, whether you remove it or the medical professional does.
There are multiple different possible skin findings and other symptoms that medical professionals look for that could mean an early infection is starting from that bite. Better to be safe than sorry.
ACCORDING TO THE MAYO CLINIC, HERE IS WHEN YOU NEED TO SEEK PROFESSIONAL MEDICAL HELP
When to contact your doctor-
* You aren't able to completely remove the tick. The longer the tick remains attached to your skin, the greater your risk of getting a disease from it.
* You develop a rash. A small red bump may appear at the site of the tick bite. This is normal. But if it develops into a larger rash, perhaps with a bull's-eye pattern, it may indicate Lyme disease. The rash usually appears within 3 to 14 days after the tick bite.
* Also consult your doctor if signs and symptoms disappear because you may still be at risk of the disease. Your risk of contracting a disease from a tick bite depends on where you live or travel to, how much time you spend outside in woody and grassy areas, and how well you protect yourself.
* You develop flu-like signs and symptoms. Fever, chills, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, and a headache may accompany the rash.
* You think the bite site is infected. Signs and symptoms include increased pain, warmth, redness or oozing/pus.
OKAY, OKAY, BUGS ARE GROSS. AND TALKING ABOUT THEM IS EVEN GROSSER (IS THAT A WORD?)
Look, as your local resident Derm-Nerd, I like making sure people have healthy vibrant skin and that they are able to enjoy the life that the mountains provide. In doing this, I am committed to educating as many people as possible about some potential issues you face and how to make the smartest decisions possible.
A moment of complete honesty? I think bugs are disgusting. But if you know what to do when you encounter certain bugs, then I feel I have done my job. Of course, making you look and feel amazing about your skin is what I really strive to do.
Until next time my Nerds-In- Training….
Thanks for reading-
Kelly Ballou, PA-C Co-Founder Renew Dermatology
Frisco, Colorado (Summit County)
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