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Bugs, or rather what they can do to us, have been hitting the headlines recently. With warnings of a Zika virus pandemic and the dramatic rise in Lyme disease, people are worried about insect bites.
With the holiday season in full swing, it’s time to get the facts straight and get yourself prepared.

Zika virus

The Zika virus is spread by daytime-active Aedes mosquito and there are currently no vaccines to prevent it. For most people it is a very mild infection and not considered harmful, but is more serious for pregnant women as it can cause birth defects, in particular microcephaly (babies born with abnormally small heads).
It’s in the news because of an outbreak in Brazil, the host of this year’s Olympics. There are warnings that it could spread to Florida and other popular American and southern European holiday destinations. Check with your GP if you are concerned.
There are also fears about the rise in Lyme disease, with cases quadrupling in the UK in the last decade, caused by changes in the climate.

Lyme disease

Lyme disease is spread by ticks, tiny spider-like creatures found in woodland and heath areas. A common first symptom is an expanding areas of redness, which looks like a bulls-eye on a dart board. Other early symptoms include fever, headache and feeling tired. If left untreated it can cause chronic conditions like arthritis.
Mosquitoes can spread very serious diseases such as malaria, yellow fever, dengue fever and others.
If you are planning a trip away, check with your pharmacist or GP as to what vaccines or tablets you may need to take.

Insect repellant

Insect repellent is a good first step for prevention. Apply before you use sunscreen and if you have children, spray onto your hands and then apply to their body; do not use on youngsters under two months. Follow all instructions given with the repellent and reapply as directed.
Avoid areas where insects are likely to be, mosquitos are more prevalent near still water and ticks live in wooded and grassy areas.

Cover up

Cover up with long sleeves and trousers when you might be vulnerable, for example when hiking; use mosquito nets to protect yourself at night or to cover children in prams and pushchairs.
In the case of Lyme disease, check for ticks after any excursions and look out for early warning symptoms.
If you do get bitten and are worried by your reaction or if your bite becomes infected, consult your GP.
Dr Alexandra Phelan is a working NHS GP and member of the Pharmacy2U Online Doctor service.

Visit the Pharmacy2U Malaria Prevention Consultation & Treatments page for more information.