A chilly and rainy spring suddenly has turned to summer.
While there are still nearly seven weeks before the heat season's official start on June 21, state officials say ticks and mosquitoes have already started their summer jobs.
With the warmer weather, people can also review, and renew, plans to keep their skin and eyes safe from the summer sun.
Insects may cause the greatest worries. The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta said mosquitoes, ticks and some flies can spread diseases such as Zika, dengue and Lyme disease. Many of the diseases, CDC says, cannot be prevented or treated with vaccines or medicines.
Bryon Backenson, deputy director of the state Health Department's Bureau of Communicable Disease Control, said it's always hard to predict whether the populations of biting insects will boom or bust during summer.
"There are things that can really change that, like this great spike in temperature we've had," Backenson said Friday. "It makes things pop when it gets really hot, mosquitoes can go through their life cycles much, much faster than they would otherwise. Then all of a sudden we get a month that's rainy and cool -- things can change really, really quickly."
Backenson said the cool April slowed down ticks and mosquitoes. People could not enjoy the lull because they spent most of the month indoors.
"Usually we would start to see some adult ticks in the beginning of April and some mosquitoes around the same period," Backenson said. "I think we kind of skated through April because the temperatures were much colder than they were otherwise. There were a handful of mosquitoes and ticks out there, but not like normal because of the temperatures we saw."
Backenson said protection measures remain constant. People can cover up their skin or use insect repellent sprays, lotions and creams.
Repellents include alphabet sampler "N,N-Diethyl-m-toluamide," also known as DEET. The chemical has been around since 1946, when it developed by the U.S. Army. Backenson knows some people are hesitant to use the stuff.
"The good thing about it being around forever means it's been studied forever," Backenson said. "Whenever chemicals are out and used in repellents, they're always approved for a short period of time, then they have to get re-approved by EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) kind of over and over again."
Studies and safety data are evaluated. "DEET continues to get re-registered," Backenson said.
The CDC recommends repellents that contain at least 20 percent DEET and adds that in general, higher percentages of the active ingredient provide longer-lasting protection. The increase in protection time, CDC says, maximizes at about 50 percent DEET.
Backenson offered other tips to watch out for and combat ticks and mosquitoes:
- Ticks prefer "fringe" areas, such as sides of hiking trails where grass is taller, as well as deep woods.
- Wearing tall white socks while gardening or hiking will protect the skin from ticks, and also let people immediately see a tick on the white fabric.
- Tick bites can result in skin rashes and a red patch on the skin. "Sometimes it will look like a bull's-eye, sometimes it won't," Backenson said. "If you're just seeing this red mark on you, that's one of the good signs of Lyme disease and you should go to your doctor if you end up seeing that."
- Ticks will "hide" on a person near body moisture. People should check near waist bands, under bra straps, near arm pits, behind ears and behind knees.
- Some repellents include the natural ingredient oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE), which has been backed by both the CDC and Environmental Protection Agency. "That one does work," Backenson said. "I will tell you that if you put it on, you will smell like lemon Pledge."
- "OLE" should not be used on children younger than 3 years old, according to the CDC.
- Repellents should not be applied to children's hands because kids tend to put their hands in their mouths.
- Picaridin has also proven helpful as a mosquito repellent.
- Box fans or oscillating fans will help scatter mosquitoes around back yard patios or picnic tables.
- Home owners should always remove standing water from their yards, rainwater that has collected in pails, flower planters, wheelbarrows and gutters. Mosquitoes use the spots as part of their breeding process.
- Mosquitoes will be around the Northeast into October. Ticks will survive until the first snowfall.
Health Department officials say people can protect their skin from harmful sun by doing the following things:
- Wear long-sleeved shirts, pants and a wide-brimmed hat for the best protection. If baseball caps or short-sleeved shirts are worn, sunscreen should also be worn on ears, neck, and arms.
- Stay in the shade as much as possible between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m, which are peak times for sunlight.
- Use a broad-spectrum suncreen of at least "SPF 15" on any exposed skin. Apply sunscreen to dry skin 15 to 30 minutes before going outdoors and re-apply every two hours. Also use new sunscreen after swimming, sweating, or toweling off.
- Wear extra protective clothing around surfaces such as snow, sand, water and concrete that reflect sunlight and could increase your risk of sunburn.
- Tips should be followed on cloudy days as well as sunny days. Clouds do not block most UV rays.
People should also take care of their eyes -- not just during the summer but all year long. According to the American Academy of Opthalmology, over-exposure to UV light raises the risk of eye diseases such as cataracts, growths on the eye and cancer.
The academy recommends people buy sunglasses that block 99 or 100 percent of ultraviolet rays.
Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 518-395-3124 or at [email protected]