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Huge, invasive “murder hornets” may be scary, but so are the typical native species of hornets, bees, mosquitoes, and ticks that cause disease and death in the US every year.
A warm, wet winter means all those pest populations are spiking early this spring and will likely thrive through the summer.
The National Pest Management Association publishes a “Bug Barometer” report every year in its Pestworld trade journal to give members an idea of what to expect in the coming season.
"(Winter weather) conditions allowed vector pests such as ticks, responsible for the spread of Lyme disease, and mosquitoes, common vectors of West Nile virus, Zika virus and Eastern equine encephalitis to get a jumpstart on activity,” said Jim Fredericks, Ph.D., chief entomologist for the NPMA, in a release. “With more warm and wet weather predicted for summer across most of the US, we’ll likely see these populations, and others, rapidly expand.”
So, at least this year, the giant Asian “murder” hornet, or Vespa mandarina, should be low on the list of concerns when you’re planning a picnic or camping trip. But experts warn they could become a bigger problem if Washington state and Canadian agriculture officials can’t wipe them out where they’ve made inroads over the last year.
The beehive-decimating hornets are tiger-striped, two-inch monster wasps with characteristic blunt, yellow heads and potent stingers containing neurotoxin.
Washington state residents found two of the invasive pests last December outside the town of Blaine, which borders Canada. Genetic analysis, according to The New York Times, showed these two weren’t related to a colony earlier discovered and destroyed on Vancouver island, meaning the colonizing bugs were likely introduced at least twice.
Washington State Department of Agriculture asks people to report sightings of the hornet to their home state’s department of agriculture so experts can try to wipe them out. Entomologists told The New York Times the US has a window of opportunity this year to protect both the bee population and US residents. In Japan, the giant Asian hornet kills about 50 people per year, The New York Times states.
What to Do if You See a Giant Asian Hornet, According to the WSDA:
- Use extreme caution near Asian giant hornets.
- The stinger of the Asian giant hornet is longer than that of a honeybee and the venom is more toxic than any local bee or wasp.
- Typical beekeeping protective clothing is not sufficient to protect you from stings.
- If you find a colony, do not attempt to remove or eradicate it.
- Anyone who is allergic to bee or wasp stings should never approach an Asian giant hornet.
- If you see a giant Asian hornet or find a nest (typically underground), note the location and notify your state’s department of agriculture.
How to Protect Yourself from Native Bees and Wasps
Native bees and wasps in the US are deadly enough. About 62 people die from bee, wasp and hornet stings in the US every year, according to the CDC, which bases the average on the mortality numbers from 2000 through 2017.
- Bee and wasp stings may produce local reactions or systemic (body-wide) allergic reactions.
- Localized pain, redness, and swelling are the most common reaction to a sting.
- Severe allergic reactions to stings are known as anaphylactic reactions and may be life-threatening.
- Treatment of a local reaction involves cleansing, removal of the stinging apparatus if present, and application of ice packs.
- Epinephrine is the treatment of choice for severe allergic reactions.
- A self-administered injectable form of epinephrine is available for individuals at risk for anaphylactic reactions.
You can take preventive measures to decrease your chance of being stung by an insect. Effective prevention tips include the following:
- Avoid, and do not disturb, hives and nests
- When participating in outdoor activities, avoid fragranced body products, bright colors, and sugary drinks
- Wear long sleeves and long pants outdoors
- Do not walk barefoot outdoors
- Do not swat at swarming bees or wasps
- Be wary around fruit trees and blooming flowers
- Keep garbage away from outdoor activity areas
How to Protect Yourself From Ticks and Tick-Borne Disease
The following are tick facts from MedicineNet author/editor Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD:
- Most tick bites do not transmit harmful microbes.
- There are a variety of tick-borne diseases (Lyme, tularemia, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and others).
- There is a wide range of symptoms that usually develop days to weeks after the tick bite. The symptoms depend on the particular microbe that is transmitted.
- Avoid grassy areas and shrubs where ticks populations may be high and where they reside, waiting to grab a ride on a potential host.
- Wear light-colored clothing so ticks can be easily seen, and brush them off.
- Tuck pants into boots or socks to avoid ticks crawling up loose pant legs.
- Apply insect repellant and use the brands designed to repel ticks. Follow label instructions.
- Promptly check yourself, others, and pets if exposed to areas where ticks are likely to be located.
How to Protect Yourself From West Nile, Zika and Other Mosquito-Borne Diseases
West Nile and Zika virus are serious diseases of concern in the US, but they aren’t the only mosquito-borne illness to worry about. It’s generally best to avoid these bloodsuckers as much as possible. Here’s how, according to MedicineNet author Sandra Gonzalez Gompf, MD, FACP:
- Stay indoors at dawn, dusk, and in the early evening.
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants when outdoors.
- Apply EPA-registered insect repellent sparingly to exposed skin and clothing according to manufacturer's instructions. An effective repellent contains 20%-30% DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide). DEET in high concentrations (greater than 30%) may cause side effects, particularly in children and babies, but it is safe to use in pregnancy. Avoid products containing more than 30% DEET.
- Picaridin is a newer repellent that is effective and about as long-lasting against mosquitoes as DEET at the same concentrations. It has been used in Europe and has been available in the US since 2005. Unlike DEET, picaridin has no odor, does not damage synthetic fabrics and plastics, and is non-greasy.
- There are some repellents with essential oils like geranium oil that may be an option for some people, but there is much less data on duration of protection or reliability of protections against mosquitoes.
- B vitamins are not effective repellents against mosquitoes.
- Repellents may irritate the eyes and mouth, so avoid applying repellent to the hands of children. Insect repellents should not be applied to very young children (under 3 years of age) or babies.
- Spray clothing with repellents containing picaridin or DEET since mosquitoes may bite through thin clothing. There are permethrin products that can be applied to clothing that will remain effective through a few washes. For those who work outdoors or need extended protection, permethrin-impregnated clothing is also available.
- Whenever using an insecticide or insect repellent, be sure to read and follow the manufacturer's directions for use, as printed on the product.
- Take preventive measures in and around your home. Repair or install door and window screens, use air conditioning, and reduce breeding sites (eliminate standing water).
- Note: "Ultrasonic" devices are not effective in preventing mosquito bites.