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NEWS | May 6, 2014

Natural nuisance: Outdoor safety tips

By Senior Airman Austin Harvill 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

While most outdoors men and women may only experience a few mosquito bites and a small rash from poison, it is imperative for Joint Base Langley Eustis community members to protect themselves during outdoor exercises or recreation.

"Luckily for [JBLE], there aren't a significant number of dangerous pests to worry about," said Tim Christensen, 733rd Civil Engineer Division conservation branch chief. "However, ticks and mosquitoes can always carry disease, so it is important to protect ourselves from them."

Ticks specifically pose a threat to anyone planning to stay outdoors near wooded areas. They can carry ailments such as lyme disease, tidewater spotted fever and human babesiosis. The forested training areas around Fort Eustis are perfect habitats, as are most fields, so U.S. Service members using those grounds must be vigilant, said Christensen.

To prevent bites, community members should invest in permethrin and DEET sprays. Permethrin-soaked clothes repel insects, and DEET spray on exposed skin further prevents bites. For both chemicals, members should follow the directions on the packaging.

As for poisonous snakes, insects and spiders, JBLE is relatively safe, said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Zach Brigham, 633rd Civil Engineer Squadron pest control noncommissioned officer-in-charge.

"Aside from the common black widow spider, there are no documented poisonous snakes or other animals at [JBLE]," said Brigham. "Rattlesnakes have been found at Sandy Bottom Nature Park nearby, so Service members should still be wary."

Hornets, wasps and bees can be found at JBLE, so community members with allergies to these creatures must seek attention immediately. Otherwise, the best defense against dangerous pests is to avoid disturbing their habitat.

"Most creatures will move away from humans as soon as they spot us," said Christensen. "If you have to disturb the environment in any way, use gloves and stay vigilant."

Additionally, Christensen advised wearing long pants and long sleeves to decrease exposed skin. Opt for boots and blouse the pant legs to further protect against bites, parasites and stings.

If preventative measures do fail, there are easy steps to a speedy recovery. For mosquitoes, simply wash the bite areas and try not to scratch. If a rash occurs, or the area becomes red and hot, seek medical attention.

For ticks, use fine-tipped tweezers and grasp the tick as close to the head as possible. After removal, wash the area with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub or soap and water.

Black widow spider and snake bite victims need to be taken to a medical care facility immediately. If the victim is unsure whether the snake or spider was venomous, still rush to a medical facility.

While animals may present a more active threat, poisonous plants can be potentially more dangerous to the unwary walker.

"[JBLE] contains all three plants with the irritant urushiol: poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac," explained Christensen. "While most of us will only suffer a rash or itching, those allergic need to be extremely careful when navigating the forest."

In addition to keeping bugs out, full-body clothing will prevent skin-to-plant contact, which will prevent irritation. If actively burning local foliage, whether firefighters conduct controlled burns or community members are enjoying a campfire, always remove these plants. Urushiol, when burned, can seriously irritate lungs and can cause anaphylactic shock, in some cases.

If the preventative measures do not work, the affected area should be washed immediately with a degreasing agent such as dish soap or detergent. Continuously rinse to prevent the urushiol oil from spreading. To handle the symptoms, over-the-counter antihistamines, calamine lotion and hydrocortisone cream will provide some relief, but users should always consult a doctor and read the instructions before using these remedies.

Whether conducting a field training exercise or having a picnic, preventative measures, proper first aid and awareness can turn every outdoor adventure into an opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors.