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Taking the Sting Out of Summer Bug Bites

While most insect bites are harmless, some can be dangerous and even deadly. Dr. Bernadine Healy spoke to The Early Show June 1 about how to avoid dangerous bug bites and take the sting out of the harmless bites that summer brings.

There are two types of bug bites, Healy says. The first kind of bite or sting, from bees and wasps that inject people with toxins, are usually only worrisome for people allergic to the toxin. The second kind of bug bite is when the insect carries an infection and injects it during the bite.

The bacteria that cause Lyme disease, which are passed to people through the bite of a deer tick, are a common example of the second type of bug bite. Healy says there are about 16,000 new cases of Lyme disease in the U.S. each year.

Healy says to relax if you find a deer tick--which is about the size of a speck of dirt--and remove the entire tick using tweezers. Make sure not to squish the tick, and put it in a jar of rubbing alcohol in case you need to bring it to your doctor to have the tick tested for Lyme disease.

Lyme disease often first shows up in people as a round, red rash. "You should wash the site, and watch the site" where the bite took place, Healy says.

Keeping bugs away from your skin is the best way to prevent insect bites, Healy says. She offers tips to keep your summer critter-free:

  • Don't wear perfumes, which tend to attract flying bugs.

  • Stay away from bright, flowery clothes if you're going to be outside.

  • Wear long sleeves and pants and enclosed shoes with socks if you go in the woods.

  • Avoid tall grass and weeds, especially in areas that are known to have problems like Lyme disease.

  • Keep food covered.

  • Use an insect repellant that includes DEET.

Insect repellant should only be used on exposed skin and clothing, and keep it away from cuts and scrapes, and wash it off if it burns your skin. Repellants should never be inhaled, Healy says, so avoid spraying it in the air. "It is safe if you use it properly," Healy says.

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