Mosquitos and spiders and snakes, oh my!

By Gabrielle Tharp, BWC Occupational Safety & Hygiene Fellow

With summer in full swing, we’re more exposed to outdoor hazards, such as insects and snakes. As an outdoor worker, it is important you know the kinds of pests you may encounter during the workday. Below are tips for identifying these critters and keeping yourself safe.

Mosquitoes and Ticks

Mosquitoes are a concern because of infectious diseases they may carry. In Ohio, four mosquito-borne diseases are common, including:

  • Eastern equine encephalitis virus.
  • La Crosse virus.
  • Louis encephalitis virus.
  • West Nile virus.

You can reduce mosquito populations at your worksite by eliminating all sources of standing water (e.g., tires, buckets, etc.). Clear debris and fill in ruts that could be collecting water.

Tick-borne diseases are a growing concern in Ohio. Species of ticks to watch out for include the Black Legged “Deer” Tick, the American Dog Tick, and the Lone Star Tick. To prevent tick bites, apply a tick repellent that is at least 25% DEET (diethyltoluamide) or use Permethrin to treat your clothing. Check out our previous blog post for more info about ticks.

To fight mosquito and tick bites, wear clothing that covers exposed skin to protect your hands, arms, legs, and neck. To prevent mosquito bites, use insect repellents with an EPA-registered active ingredient such as DEET. If also applying sunscreen, make sure to apply it before the insect repellent.

Bees and Wasps

To prevent bee and wasp stings, wear light-colored clothing, avoid perfumes, and avoid bananas and banana-scented toiletries. Wear clean clothes and bathe daily because sweat may incite some bees. Remain calm and do not swat at the bee or wasp.

If you are stung, wash the site with soap and water. Remove the stinger using gauze to wipe over the area or by scraping a fingernail over the area. Never squeeze the stinger or use tweezers. Apply ice to reduce swelling and do not scratch the site of the sting. Those with extreme allergies to bee stings should carry an epinephrine pen with them to combat the reaction.

Spiders

There are two species of spiders in Ohio that are dangers to humans: The Black Widow and the Brown Recluse Spider.

The Black Widow is normally shiny black with a red hourglass marking on the underside of the abdomen. Its venom produces pain at the bite area which may spread to the chest, abdomen, or the entire body. The Recluse Spider is brown with a recognizable dark violin-shaped marking on its head. The venom from the Recluse Spider can cause a severe skin lesion by destroying skin tissue.

Snakes

In Ohio there are three venomous snakes: The Timber Rattlesnake, Massasauga Rattlesnake, and the Eastern Copperhead snake. There are many more non-venomous than venomous snakes in Ohio.

Non-venomous snakes normally have an oval head, round pupils, and only nostrils present. Venomous snakes have distinctly triangular heads, elliptical pupils, and extra heat-sensing pits between their eyes and nostrils. Their tails end in a rattle except for the Eastern Copperhead.

Venomous snake bites result in immediate swelling, discoloration, and pain. Extreme symptoms that later develop can include slurred speech, convulsions, paralysis, and loss of consciousness. Transport snakebite victims to a hospital immediately. To prevent snakebites, you should:

  • Never try to handle any snake.
  • Avoid tall grass areas and piles of leaves.
  • Avoid climbing on rock or wood piles.
  • Wear boots and long pants, and leather gloves when handling brush and debris.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources has a Reptiles of Ohio Field Guide to help you identify the wide variety of snakes in our state.

Benefits of snakes and spiders

Although our first instinct is to step on or smash a spider, you may want to think twice. Spiders regularly capture and help control nuisance pests and even disease-carrying insects, like mosquitoes. Snakes can keep pests (e.g., rats and mice) in check. Non-venomous snakes often prey on poisonous snakes, which can lower our chances of encountering a more dangerous snake.

Be TICK Smart! Protect, Check, Remove, Watch

Prevent tick bites and the diseases they carry

As the weather warms and we’re spending more time outdoors, the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) urges us to take precautions in preventing tick bites and the diseases they may carry.

This is particularly important if you work outside. You need to take added precautions to prevent tick bites such as wearing protective and light-colored clothing as well as using EPA-registered repellents. Here’s what the ODH has to say about this vital health issue:

“Diseases spread by ticks are an increasing concern in Ohio,” said ODH Director Amy Acton, M.D., MPH. “The best way to prevent tickborne diseases is to prevent tick bites by taking simple precautions at home and when working or playing in wooded or brushy areas from early spring to late fall.”

Tick-bite symptoms 

Dr. Acton also recommends people who get sick from a tick bite contact their health care provider. This is particularly true if you have symptoms like:

  • A fever or headache.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Joint pain or muscle aches.
  • Fatigue.
  • A rash.

Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever

Ticks are most active during the warm months, and most diseases in Ohio happen between the spring and late fall. However, blacklegged ticks that can transmit Lyme disease are active when it’s colder. You can encounter them any time the temperature is above freezing.

The most common Ohio tickborne diseases include Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. There were 293 Lyme disease cases and 38 Rocky Mountain spotted fever cases reported in the state last year.

Tips to keep ticks away

  • Walk in the middle of trails. Avoid tall grass, brush and leaf litter.
  • Use EPA-registered repellents labeled for use against ticks on the skin. Follow the label’s instructions. These repellents are safe and effective, even for pregnant and breastfeeding women.
  • Treat clothing and your gear such as pants, boots, socks and tents with a product containing permethrin, or buy permethrin-treated clothing and gear. Do not apply permethrin directly on your skin.
  • Wear long pants, sleeves and socks. Tuck your pant legs into your socks and your shirt into your pants.
  • Wear light colors to make it easier to see ticks.

Remove ticks from everyone’s skin 

ODH says it’s important to check yourself, your children and pets thoroughly after spending time in areas that may have ticks.

  • If you find a tick, use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible. Pull it away from your skin with a steady, even pressure. Do not twist or jerk the tick, which can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in your skin. If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers. If you’re unable to remove the mouth-parts easily with clean tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal.
  • Safely dispose of the tick by putting it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, wrapping it tightly in tape or flushing it down the toilet. Never crush a tick with your fingers.
  • Then, wash your hands and the bite area with soap and water.
  • Don’t use petroleum jelly, a hot match, nail polish or any other “folk” remedies to remove a tick as these methods don’t work.

For more information and resources, visit the ODH website.