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News | June 9, 2023

Bug Awareness Week: Small Bugs Pack a Pathogenic Punch

By James Black

Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) partners with its Department of Defense stakeholders and the National Institutes of Health to promote Bug Awareness Week, an annual public health campaign held June 10 – 17 to heighten awareness of the potential risks associated with insect-related transmissible diseases.

According to the Defense Health Agency, everyone is vulnerable to diseases spread by infected insects such as mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas, also called vectors. Vector-borne diseases are human illnesses caused by parasites, viruses, and bacteria that are transmitted by vectors. Increasing global travel and urbanization contribute to outbreaks in new regions and countries.

“We strive to educate our service members in being especially vigilant in protecting themselves from malaria, West Nile virus, Zika virus, Dengue virus and other bug-related illnesses, many of which are contracted in tropical or austere environments,” said Navy Lt. Cmdr. (Dr.) Sara Robinson, the service chief of the Infectious Disease Department at WRNMMC.

The medical center’s namesake, U.S. Army physician Maj. (Dr.) Walter Reed, led a research team in the early 1900s that confirmed that yellow fever, a viral disease commonly associated with abdominal pain and kidney malfunction, was caused by a particular mosquito species. The insight of Reed’s team paved the way for advancements in epidemiology and biomedicine.

To kick off Bug Week, the National Museum of Health and Medicine is hosting Bugapalooza, a free, family-friendly event on June 10 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., rain or shine. Bugapalooza presenters will introduce visitors to a variety of bug-related topics. People will be able to discover which bugs are bizarre, beneficial, or downright deadly. They will learn how to battle the bugs or use them to your advantage.

If you want to dive deeper and learn how to protect yourself and your family during the upcoming summer and fall travel seasons, check out the Defense Health Agency’s child-friendly video series at

For more information on some preventive measures you can take to stay healthy, here’s a partial list of recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC):

Check Your Destination

Your destination and activities may determine what steps you need to take to protect yourself from bug bites. Check CDC Destinations pages to see what vaccines or medicines you may need and what diseases or health risks are a concern at your destination.

Take Steps to Prevent Bug Bites During Your Trip

Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents with one of the active ingredients below. When used as directed, EPA-registered insect repellents are proven safe and effective, even for pregnant and breastfeeding women. If also using sunscreen, always apply insect repellent after sunscreen.
• Picaridin (known as KBR 3023 and icaridin outside the US)
• IR3535
• Oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE)
• Para-menthane-diol (PMD)
• 2-undecanone
• Find the right insect repellent for you at
• Insect Repellent Tips for Babies and Children
• Dress your child in clothing that covers arms and legs.
• Cover strollers and baby carriers with mosquito netting.
• Always follow label instructions.
• Apply sunscreen before applying insect repellant.
• Do not use products containing oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) or para-menthane-diol (PMD) on children under 3 years old.
• Do not apply insect repellent to a child’s hands, eyes, mouth, cuts, or irritated skin.
• Adults: Spray insect repellent onto your hands and then apply to a child’s face.
Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants
• Use 0.5% permethrin to treat clothing and gear (such as boots, pants, socks, and tents) or buy permethrin-treated clothing and gear.
• Permethrin is an insecticide that kills or repels insects like mosquitoes and sandflies.
• Permethrin-treated clothing provides protection after multiple washings.
• Read product information to find out how long the protection will last.
• If treating items yourself, follow the product instructions.
• Do not use permethrin products directly on the skin.
Keep mosquitoes out of your hotel room or lodging
• Choose a hotel or lodging with air conditioning or window and door screens.
• Use a mosquito net if you are unable to stay in a place with air conditioning or window and door screens or if you are sleeping outside.

Prevent Tick Bites

Hikers and campers beware, earlier this year, the Defense Centers Public Health–Aberdeen Vector-Borne Disease Branch confirmed the presence of Borrelia miyamotoi, an emerging tick-borne pathogen that causes hard tick-relapsing fever, commonly acquired while sleeping in mountainous terrains - presenting symptoms similar to Lyme disease.
• Know where to expect ticks. Ticks live in grassy, brushy, or wooded areas, or even on animals. Spending time outside camping, gardening, or hunting could bring you in close contact with ticks. Many people get ticks in their own yard or neighborhood.
• Treat clothing and gear with products containing 0.5% permethrin. Permethrin can be used to treat boots, clothing and camping gear and remain protective through several washings. Alternatively, you can buy permethrin-treated clothing and gear.
• Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (OLE), para-menthane-diol (PMD), or 2-undecanone. Always follow product instructions. Do not use products containing OLE or PMD on children under 3 years old.

Avoid Contact with Ticks

• Avoid wooded and brushy areas with high grass and leaf litter.
• Walk in the center of trails.

Find and Remove Ticks

• Check your clothing for ticks. Ticks may be carried into the house on clothing. Any ticks that are found should be removed. When possible, tumble dry clothes in a dryer on high heat for 10 minutes to kill ticks on dry clothing after you come indoors. If the clothes are damp, additional time may be needed. If the clothes require washing first, hot water is recommended. Cold and medium temperature water will not kill ticks.
• Examine gear and pets. Ticks can ride on clothing and pets, then attach to a person later, so carefully examine pets, coats, and daypacks.
• Shower soon after being outdoors. Showering within two hours of coming indoors has been shown to reduce your risk of getting tick-borne diseases. Showering may help wash off unattached ticks, and it is a good opportunity to do a tick check.
• Check your body for ticks. Conduct a full body check upon return from potentially tick-infested areas. Use a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body. Check these parts of your body for ticks:
• Under the arms
• In and around the ears
• Inside belly button
• Back of the knees
• In and around the hair
• Between the legs
• Around the waist
• If you find a tick attached to your skin, simply remove the tick as soon as possible.
Don't forget to keep your family's information up-to-date in DEERS.