It’s summertime and you’ve been out in the yard pulling weeds in the hot sun. The next day, unfortunately a few telltale blisters appear on your body and you realize you have been in touch with poison ivy.

For me, one of the many people who is highly allergic, I don’t even have to touch the plant to get poison ivy. I’ve gotten it from washing family members’ clothing, from petting our animals and from another person. I can barely brush the plant when hiking and get a spot or two.

I haven’t always been this allergic, but years ago, when I was in my late 20s, I was weeding what I thought was Virginia creeper (with my bare hands), but was actually poison ivy. I ended up with a severe case all over my face and in my eyes which led to a weekend trip to the emergency room. Now, I am much more sensitive to the plant.

Poison ivy and Virginia creeper look very similar; however, poison ivy has three very shiny leaves and Virginia creeper has five. Poison ivy, as well as its cousins poison sumac and poison oak, contain an oil called urushiol. This oil is what causes the allergic reaction, because it has a dermatitis-producing principle, pentdeclyacatechol. Urushiol doesn’t evaporate and can remain active on clothing for up to a year.

These days, I am very careful to always wear gardening gloves, shower after working outside and immediately wash my clothes in hot water. Even these measures don’t always prevent me from breaking out.

Son Andrew is also very sensitive to poison ivy. He got a severe case when he was a teenager, and now, since he works in landscaping, seems to have poison ivy regularly.

Mosquito bites

Daughter Rebecca has a different summer itch; she is allergic to mosquito bites. Mosquitos seem to be drawn to her. Soon after being bitten, her bites turn red and inflamed-looking. Rebecca is the first one in the family to reach for the bug spray.

An article I read on WebMD said genetics account for 85% of the susceptibility of mosquito bites. Research has shown that certain people exude chemicals that are attractive to mosquitos.

Blood type seems to play a role in attractiveness to mosquito bites. Mosquitos seem to like O positive, better than A or B blood types. Also, people who emit more carbon dioxide are more likely to be bitten, as are people who produce high amounts of uric acid.

Some researchers believe mosquitos are more attracted to people wearing dark-colored clothing.

Aside from bug sprays, mosquito repellants include insect shield clothing, which is infused with the insecticide permethrin, mosquito traps and oils such as citronella, cedar, peppermint, lemongrass and geranium.

Tick bites

My least favorite summer insect is the tick. The two most common diseases that can be transmitted through tick bites are Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Lyme Disease.  A tick does not have to be imbed in the skin to transmit a disease; a tick can just bite and then fall off.

Even pets can get Lyme disease, which is transmitted by the tiny deer tick.  We found out our Blue Heeler, Jess, has Lyme disease a few months ago.  She had been showing signs of severe joint stiffness, so we took her to the veterinarian to be checked.  Although she had been on flea and tick medication and we hadn’t found any imbedded ticks in her, she had obviously been bitten. She received medication and now is on daily glucosamine.

In humans, Lyme disease presents itself as flu-like symptoms accompanied by a rash with a “bullet” center. Lyme disease is often misdiagnosed, but there is a blood test for it. As with Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever often mimics the flu, with headache, fever, chills and body aches and is accompanied by a spotted rash.

Summer is a wonderful time of year, but as with  anything else, you’ve got to take the bad with the good.

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