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Wilderness Survival: Preventative Measures and Off Grid Treatment for Deadly Bugs

As the weather warms up and people begin to venture outdoors once more, they will be more susceptible to being bitten. Knowing the dangers that of ectoparasites and the diseases they carry will help take more preventative steps. This article will touch on wilderness-acquired diseases from insects, as well as provide information on treatments needed for them, along with the holistic approach where applicable.


Hi there, guys and gals reading Ready Nutrition today!  I believe Ready Nutrition’s Joshua Krause and I must have had a subconscious “Vulcan Mind Meld.”  He just wrote a great article on Tick Removal and Prevention, and here I am with this piece on diseases from these egregious ectoparasites.  The advice he gave is really important concerning these creatures, as an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  If your tick makes it through the defenses Josh outlined, well, here’s some information concerning the diseases they carry and some facts to arm you in your battle.

The Usual Suspects

As the weather warms up and people begin to venture outdoors once more, they will be more susceptible to being bitten. Let’s list the ectoparasites and then chart the diseases they carry.  Then we will list the diseases along with medications and treatments needed for them, along with the holistic approach where applicable.  Here’s the list:

  1. Flea – the one that affects humans is Pulex irritans; the genus Xenopsylla transmits the plague bacillus (Yersinia pestis).  Rats are the intermediate host; the flea proceeds from the rat to the human.  Yersinia pestis causes the flea to actually choke and prevents it from taking in a nourishing meal of blood.  As a result, the hunger-crazed plague-carrying fleas bite indiscriminately and voraciously every warm-blooded animal they can.  The flea is also an intermediate host for tapeworms affecting dogs and cats.  Other important disease carried: Tularemia.
  2. Tick – the primary species is the wood tick (Dermacentor andersoni).  A tick can live for years without a host and practically exist in a state of suspended animation until it detects a warm-blooded source for a meal.  Important diseases: Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Tularemia, Lyme Disease.
  3. Deer Fly – the species of Chrysops discalis; this biting fly transmits deer fly fever, which is a variant of the disease of Tularemia.
  4. Chiggers – the harvest mite; they attach to snug-fitting clothing during the summer causing a rash; the good news is they can be treated with over-the-counter (OTC) medications. 

These are the main culprits that hikers and outdoor-enthusiasts should be aware of.

Treatments and Preventatives

Now let’s examine the diseases mentioned and their treatments, as well as naturopathic aids where applicable.  Prescription meds are emboldened; naturopathic aids are underlined.  The diseases are as follows:

Tularemia – (Francisella tularensis); carried by ticks, deer flies, inadequately prepared meat, and water with the organism living in it.  Symptoms manifest in 1-10 days with an average of 3 days; they include headache, chills, vomiting, aching, and fever.  An ulcer tends to form in the entry site of the bacteria with regional lymph node swelling and eventual abcess.  The disease can progress to pneumonia and debilitation.  The drugs of choice are Streptomycin, and Gentamicin.  Although there is no specific naturopathic aid for Tularemia, for fever reduction and use as a nervine, Catnip (Nepeta cataria) can be consumed as a tea that can be found in your local health food stores.  3 cups daily can be taken; however, it is contraindicated with pregnant women.

Plague – (Yersinia pestis); a.k.a. Black plague, bubonic plague, hemorrhagic plague:  This disease presents symptoms of elevated fever, extreme restlessness, confusion, shock, coma, delirium, and prostration.  Prescription medications: Streptomycin, tetracyclines, gentamycin, fluoroquinolones.  A holistic aid is German Ipecac (Cynanchum vincetoxicum), harvested in Europe for its leaves and rhizome taken as an infusion to combat plague; it should be taken under medical supervision.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever – (Rickettsia ricketsii), transmitted by two species of ticks, D. variabilis, and D. andersoni.  Once it was believed the disease was only predominant in the Western U.S., however, that assumption has been debunked.  The disease is found anywhere that the ticks are present, and this includes most of the U.S.  Symptoms include fever, headache, muscular pain, and a vasculite rash that appears several days after the symptoms commence.  The rash is found on the wrists and ankles first, then progresses to the palms and soles, then the legs, arms, trunk, and face.  The serious complications are with intravascular coagulation and pneumonia.  Tetracycline is the drug of choice to combat it, although Chloramphenicol is a substitute for those allergic to Tetracycline. Once again, Catnip is useful for fever reduction and as a nerve tonic to ease headache and muscular pain (myalgia).

Lyme Disease – from a spirochete (Borrelia burgdorferi); Lyme disease is primarily found in New England, Long Island, and the Pacific Northwest.  In the spring and summer the deer tick is the primary vector of the genus Ixodes.

Note: a vector is a carrier (usually an insect or arthropod, as our creepy-crawlies in the list) that transmits a disease to another animal or organism.

The disease presents with a rash, a red ring located at the site of the bite that expands with a clear center.  Lyme disease is usually detected by ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) screening.  Stage 1 sees a localized infection within 7-14 days with a headache, stiff neck, and swelling.  Stage 2 lasts weeks to months; there is arthritis, muscular pain, and dysrhythmias (cardiac problems).  Stage 3 (the chronic stage) lasts 2-3 years after the initial bite.  Prescription meds include PO (oral) Doxycycline, or Ampicillin for 3 – 4 weeks at the onset of the disease.  For those allergic to penicillin, Erythromycin or Cefuroxime axetil can be prescribed.

Naturopathic aids: Garlic (Allium sativum) that act as an immune system stimulant and a natural antibiotic.  Take 2-3 cloves daily with a meal, or capsules as indicated by the manufacturer. Vitamin C can be taken 6,000 – 10,000 mg per day in divided doses to aid the immune system.

As Josh Krause mentioned in his article on tick removal and prevention, DEET (N-diethyl-3-methylbenzamide) can be used to help keep these pests at bay.  For flea infestations (as they tend to multiply in houses and lay eggs) one can find plenty of naphthalene and permethrin-based flea-bombs to treat the house.  With chiggers, Lindane (Kwell) can be obtained that is decidedly mightier than those mites!  All in all, your best measures are preventative; however, if you have removed the critter and feel ill, you should seek professional medical attention.

Have a great day, Ready Nutrition Readers, and may you use this information to have a productive (and undisturbed!) outdoor experience!


Jeremiah Johnson


For Further Study and References:


  1. Dr. Donald Venes, MD.  Taber’s Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary, 19th Ed., ISBN: 0-8036-0656-7.
  2. Dr. James F. Balch, MD.  Prescription for Nutritional Healing.  ISBN: 0-89529-727-2.
  3. “PDR for Herbal Medicines,” 3rd Ed., Thomson PDR, Montvale, NJ  2004.  ISBN: 1-56363-512-7.

 For Inquiries into Arthropod-Borne Illnesses:  U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC):  1-404-332-4555.

This article was originally published at Ready Nutrition™ on April 12th, 2015