The Bugs of Summer – Avoid the Bites

woman spraying a child in a purple tshirt with bug spray when in the woods

Tiny Vampires

We are gathering carefully outdoors more than ever this summer in order to stay COVID-safe. And who else likes to have a meal outside on a warm evening? Mosquitos. All they want is a little of your blood, but what they leave behind under your skin is an unwelcome parting gift –their saliva. Mosquito saliva contains highly irritating proteins which alert your immune system to send out the histamine troops to get those foreign proteins under control. So, those itchy, red welts that last a couple of days are from your system trying to help out.

Here’s what I’ve learned from 5 trips to Tanzania and 2 to Honduras where mosquitos transmit malaria, dengue fever, zika, and chickungunya. In Tanzania, I was also bitten by Tsetse flies and Nairobi sand flies. Both leave huge painful welts, so I’m all about prevention and protection.

Go with Prevention

  • Clothing – The proboscis of a mosquito can fit through the fabric of most clothing, especially if it is a thin fabric and fits tightly against the skin. Spandex and yoga pants? Not so good. Tightly woven and heavier fabric that fits loosely is best. Long sleeves and long pants? It’s a great idea, but, in warm weather usually, we are in shorts and a sleeveless shirt so you might need other measures.
  • They Don’t Like a Breeze – Even a light breeze makes it hard for mosquitos to fly and navigate. Pick a picnic spot with some wind, or set up a couple of fans on your patio. Aim them down as the little buggers fly low to avoid strong air currents.
  • Mosquito Mealtime – Because they don’t like wind, mosquitos prefer to dine out on you at dawn and dusk. They are crepuscular – An SAT word for your teens for sure, which means, active at twilight. That’s when to stay inside. Also, mosquitoes breed in stagnant freshwater so check your yard for plant saucers, buckets, etc. where water has been sitting. 
  • DEET (N, N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide) repellent – There is wide scientific consensus that DEET is safe and effective when used as directed. This means spray on your clothing, hat, socks, but use in lotion form on your hands to carefully apply to uncovered skin. Do not get near eyes or mouth.
  • Picaridin is another synthetic compound that mimics piperine, a natural compound produced by pepper plants. Picaridin has similar effectiveness to DEET.  Lotion lasts for up to 14 hours against mosquitoes and ticks. 
  • Synthesized Plant Oils – effective on mosquitoes, some ticks.  These plant oils are still considered chemicals and are regulated by the EPA. 
  • Lemon eucalyptus oil can repel mosquitoes for up to six hours.
  • IR3535, a synthetic based on a natural amino acid, can last up to eight hours
  • If you live in area with a lot of mosquitos, be sure to have screens over the windows. 
  • Use your air conditioner to cool the house down as there are filters that trap flying insects

Mosquito & Tick-Borne Illnesses

There are reasons beyond the annoying itch to avoid getting bit by mosquitos or ticks. Mosquitos can carry a variety of diseases: West Nile, Zika, or encephalitis viruses, and also in other countries, chikungunya, dengue, and malaria. 

While I was in Honduras, I cared for many people with Malaria, Dengue, and Zika. 

  • West Nile Virus – The incubation period is from two to 14 days, with symptoms such as body and muscle aches, fever, headaches, fatigue, joint pain, and stiff neck.
  • Zika Virus – fever, rash, headache, joint pain, conjunctivitis, muscle pain. There have been no reports of someone getting Zika from a mosquito in the continental U.S. since 2017.
  • Chikungunya Virus – fever, joint pain, headache, muscle pain, joint swelling, or rash.
  • Encephalitis Virus – headache, flu-like symptoms, sensitivity to light, neck stiffness, lethargy, confusion, or hallucinations.
  • Malaria – fever, flu-like illness, shaking chills, headache, muscle aches, tiredness, nausea, vomiting.
  • Dengue – most people will not feel sick, but a few will develop a mild case leading to headache, muscle and joint pain. Rarely, dengue becomes severe leading to internal bleeding and even death.  


Ticks are found in grassy and woodland areas in most of the US. They drop from trees (wear a hat!) and jump from tall grasses and hitch rides on unsuspecting hikers and campers. And check the dog too, especially in the crevices in their paws. Ticks can carry several illnesses:

  • Rocky Mountain spotted fever – a rare bacterial disease spread through the bite of an infected tick. Most people who get sick with RMSF will have a fever, headache, and rash..
  • Lyme disease – Lyme disease is now the most common animal to human illness in the US. Symptoms include fever, chills, aches and pains, and a rash visible at the site, often in a red bulls-eye-shape. If you find a tick, do try to save it in a plastic bag for testing.
  • Ehrlichiosis – a bacterial illness transmitted by ticks that causes flu-like symptoms from mild body aches to severe fever.
  • Anaplasmosis – spread by different species of ticks most frequently reported from the Upper Midwest and Northeastern United States 

First Aid for Bites

  • ice or a cold compress
  • calamine lotion or caladryl cream
  • apply a paste of baking soda and water 
  • take an antihistamine 
  • apply Over the Counter hydrocortisone cream
  • apply a paste of oatmeal and water
  • avoid hot showers, this increases blood flow to the area, which makes the symptoms spread

Or, this ancient Chinese remedy – rub the inside of a banana peel directly onto the bite and leave for a while. Can’t hurt. 

I hope these help. Do send me your tried and true tips for avoiding bites this summer. 

Creating a New Pattern for Helping! Sewing Circles Making Masks


Wait!  What?

It’s true, as you think about the Covid19 virus and try to take a break from the news, here’s some good news!  All over the country, people are creating new patterns of community and are reaching out in one of the best ways to support frontline providers of care.

And right now, I know many of you want to “Do Something” and get involved because the very best antidote to the feelings of being overwhelmed is to stop, pause, breathe and ask yourself, “How can I be of service?”

Comfort and Caring

We all have our own barometers for comfort and caring. Remember after 9-11, people would drop off cookies or baked goods to their local Fire Departments?  Well, as much as your front-line providers would love some baked goods, I mean who wouldn’t benefit from some chocolate right now?  What they really want is more Personal Protective Equipment, known as PPE, including masks.

The truth is that the demand for masks is more than what we have available right here, right now in hospitals across the country. I’m talking to friends and colleagues who are caring for people in hospitals, clinics, offices, urgent care settings. Colleagues from Tennessee to Tacoma, Boston to Baton Rouge and they all say the same thing. We are running out of supplies. 

And yet, the tremendous outpouring of support and of help from people everywhere is what I look to and am grateful for. People reaching out to help one another and do what they can. We can’t all become nurses or doctors or respiratory therapists overnight, but there are some things we can do, and here’s one.

If you want to participate, here’s a link from UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health for hospitals all over the country who need masks.

And, if you are doing some spring cleaning and happen to find some N95 masks in a corner cupboard or a bag somewhere, please donate them. I put the word out on Next Door and neighbors have been dropping off N95 masks all day.

We will come through this together and we will be stronger for it.

What to Eat to Lower Your Cholesterol

Ok, if you’re reading this, then chances are you or someone you love has been advised to change their diet to help lower their cholesterol.  You can click here to read my blog that explains more about cholesterol?  (link to blog on Why You Should Care about Cholesterol)

Know your numbers

Ideal results

Total Cholesterol < 200

HDL Cholesterol > 40 for men

Triglycerides < 150

> 50 for women

> 60 is associated with a lower risk of heart disease

LDL < 100

< 70 for people with heart disease

Triglycerides < 150

If Total Cholesterol And LDL Are Elevated and Triglycerides are normal

When this happens, it’s an indication that a person needs fewer of the fats that come from animal protein. In this case, a person should reduce these foods

  • Butter
  • Egg Yolks
  • Red Meat
  • Pork 
  • The skin from chicken or turkey
  • Fatty luncheon meats such as salami

By substituting fish, lean chicken or turkey and having vegetarian meals, the total amount of cholesterol in the diet will be reduced. Having more vegetables and salads will help a person feel less hungry.

It’s also important to eat healthy protective foods, such as olive oil, oatmeal and small amounts of almonds. Even a little red wine a few times a week can help lower cholesterol. 

If Triglycerides and Cholesterol are Elevated

When this happens, it’s an indication that the carbohydrates you’re eating are rapidly being converted into excess triglycerides and cholesterol.  This can also indicate that the person has insulin resistance or is more at risk for diabetes. 

With high Triglycerides, the key is to lower your intake of carbohydrates (What is a Carbohydrate?) Try to keep your intake of carbs under 120 grams/day. 

That may sound like a lot, but you’ll be surprised at how many carbs are in a lot of the healthy foods you’re eating.

Read the labels

1 slice of bread may have as many as 20 – 30 grams of carbohydrate. That means that a sandwich can have 40-60 grams of carbs! 

The mocha frappuccino at your favorite coffee shop has 65 grams of carbs in it. Really! Even yogurt has carbs, so read the labels. If it has fruit or is flavored, chances are there are 30 or more grams of carbs in it.  And if you like a little soda in the afternoon as a pick me up, a can of cola has 39 grams of carbs, while a glass of orange juice has 29 grams

So by making small changes, like eliminating sugary drinks and juices, people can reduce their carb intakes dramatically.

Many people find it easy to reduce their carbs by half. That means use 1 teaspoon of sugar in your coffee, not 2. When you are serving up pasta or rice, serve yourself about half as much as you normally do.  You want to load your plate with lots of vegetables and salads.

What about hunger?

You might be worried that you’ll be too hungry to do this.  Here’s the trick:  Eat more protein and increase your healthy fats from avocado, nuts or seeds. You’ll feel much fuller when you have more protein. 


Yes, salads, but avoid the croutons, the tortilla strips and corn that are sometimes on a salad, this drives up the carbohydrates. 

This is a very basic overview of what to eat when cholesterol levels are high. For more information check out the American Heart Association’s diet guidelines.