As we all head outside to enjoy the summer, there are some hazards that lurk in the thick grasses and cool forests... poisonous plants and biting insects. This doesn't mean that you have to hide inside during the warmest months of the year, but you and your family should be aware of the risks and how to prevent mosquito and tick bites, and harmful exposure to poison ivy and other poisonous plants.
Many native and exotic plants are poisonous to humans when ingested or if there is skin contact with plant chemicals. However, the most common problems with poisonous plants arise from contact with the sap oil of several native plants, such as urushiol, that cause an allergic skin reaction—poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac. Burning these poisonous plants produces smoke that, when inhaled, can cause lung irritation. Any person working outdoors is at risk of exposure to poisonous plants.
How to protect yourself:
- Wear long sleeves, long pants, boots, and gloves.
- Wash exposed clothing separately in hot water with detergent.
- Barrier skin creams, such as lotion containing bentoquatum, may offer some protection.
- After use, clean tools with rubbing alcohol or soap and lots of water. Urushiol can remain active on the surface of objects for up to 5 years.
- Wear disposable gloves during this process.
- Do not burn plants or brush piles that may contain poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac.
- Inhaling smoke from burning plants can cause severe allergic respiratory problems.
First aid for poisonous plant exposures:
- Immediately rinse skin with rubbing alcohol, poison plant wash, or degreasing soap (such as dishwashing soap) or detergent, and lots of water.
- Rinse frequently so that wash solutions do not dry on the skin and further spread the urushiol.
- Scrub under nails with a brush.
- Apply wet compresses, calamine lotion, or hydrocortisone cream to the skin to reduce itching and blistering.
- Oatmeal baths may relieve itching.
- An antihistamine may help relieve itching. NOTE: Drowsiness may occur.
- In severe cases, or if the rash is on the face or genitals, seek professional medical attention.
- Call 911 or go to a hospital if you have a severe allergic reaction such as swelling, difficulty breathing, or have had a severe reaction in the past.
Outdoor workers may be exposed to vector-borne diseases spread from the bites of infected ticks and mosquitoes. Ticks and mosquitoes may carry bacteria, parasites or viruses. According to the CDC, Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne disease in the U.S. Ticks are found in wooded areas, high grass, or leaf litter. They are most active during the spring, summer and fall, but in warmer areas may be active all year round.
One of the most common diseases carried by mosquitoes in the U.S. is West Nile virus infection. Mosquitoes may be found near standing water, or in weedy or wooded areas. They are usually most active during dawn and dusk in the warmer months.
To reduce tick populations:
- Remove leaf litter.
- Remove, mow, or cut back tall grass and brush.
- Discourage deer activity.
To reduce mosquito exposures:
- Eliminate standing water.
- Remove debris from ditches.
- Fill in areas that collect standing water.
- Place drain holes in containers that collect water and cannot be discarded.
Steps to protect workers from ticks and mosquitoes:
- Wear a hat and light-colored clothing (so ticks can be easily spotted), including long-sleeved shirts and long pants tucked into boots or socks.
- Use insect repellents that containing 20–50% DEET on exposed skin and clothing.
- Reapply repellents as needed. (Always follow products labels).
- Use insecticides such as permethrin for greater protection. Permethrin can be used on clothing, but not on skin. One application to pants, socks, and shoes may be effective through several washings.
- Check skin and clothing for ticks daily. Check hair, underarms, and groin. Immediately remove ticks using fine-tipped tweezers. Grasp the tick firmly, as close to your skin as possible. Pull the tick’s body away from your skin with a steady motion. Clean the area with soap and water.
- Wash and dry work clothes using the “hot” settings to kill any ticks present.
- If you develop symptoms of a vector-borne disease, seek medical attention promptly. Tell your doctor that you work outdoors and report any ticks or mosquito bites.
- Download the Poisonous Plants Safety Alert from the Safety Library.
- To learn more about Poisonous Plants, visit the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and download NIOSH Fast Facts: Protecting Yourself from Poisonous Plants.
- Download the Ticks & Mosquitoes Safety Alert from the Safety Library.
- Read more about Lyme Disease and the dangers of this common tick-borne disease from the CDC's website.