Summer Bummers: Know Them, Avoid Them

Nature has a bunch of surprises in store along the shore for unprepared vacation-goers. Get wise before you get out there.

ocean wave in Hawaii

It’s summertime, and the livin’ is supposed to be easy. But beware the season’s hazards, which can make your Saturday on the beach or lake as miserable as a Monday morning at the office. No, we’re not talking about the extended family of 20 from West Virginia who rented the condo next door and have been playing the entire ZZ Top catalog loudly enough to shake the walls. We’re talking about the wild beasties, large and small, ready to mess up your hard-earned vacay faster than you can say, “Mosquitoes are hell’s own spawn.”

Here’s what to look out for, and what to do if they get you:


Again, the spawn of hell. They dine on your blood, spread diseases ranging from malaria to West Nile to Zika, and their bites leave nasty welts on your skin that hurt like a mother. Don’t worry. In the United States, mosquitoes are more annoying than deadly. But they infect 200 million people a year in the rest of the world. Fun fact: Only the females drink your blood. Unfortunately, the females can live for months while the non-blood-sucking males live for a week. Fun fact no. 2: Some people have mosquito-attracting chemicals in their sweat. So you may be a mosquito magnet, thanks to your genetics.

  • Avoid them: Coat yourself in bug spray. Wear clothes pre-treated with the insecticide permethrin or spray your clothes with insect repellant. Mosquitos breed in still, standing water, so don’t picnic by ponds and marshes. Rethink that safari to the Congo and if you go, get recommended vaccinations so you don’t bring encephalitis home as a souvenir.
  • If they get you: Wash bites with soap and warm water. Put an ice pack on them to stop the itching, or apply topical itch meds. Taking a couple of Benadryl will help, too.

Sand flies

These tiny bastards are the flying vampires of the shore. They bite you, suck your blood and leave mean welts on your skin. They’re a third the size of mosquitoes, but they punch above their weight, with bites that hurt a lot more than those dealt by their larger cousins. They feed at dawn and dusk, and come out in swarms that will make you consider watching the sunset or sunrise from the safety of your condo.

  • Avoid them: Simple. Just coat yourself in insect repellant or wear clothes treated with the insecticide permethrin. You can also DIY it by spraying your clothes with bug repellant. Wind keeps the little tormentors from flying, so windy days are the best days to go out.
  • If they get you: Wash the area around the bite and apply calamine lotion or hydrocortisone. If you’re allergic to bug bites, take Benadryl as directed.


Bacteria and viruses and parasites, oh my. These nasties are more likely to attack you than stingrays and jellies. The big two: E-coli, which gets into water via runoff from farms, cities and sewage, and salmonella, which can show up in your picnic basket. Both thrive in warm weather. Both will cause, um, digestive problems.

  • Avoid them: Keep perishable food in an ice chest so it stays cool enough to stop salmonella. Don’t swallow sea or lake water, lest you get a gulp of e-coli. Check local water-quality reports to see if there are any health warnings.
  • If they get you: If you’re not better in 24 hours, see a doctor.


Stingrays injure thousands of people each year in U.S. waters. You’re most likely to have a bad encounter with one when you’re wading in shallow water. If you happen to step on a flatfish as it lies under the sand, it can get spooked and shoot a venomous barb from its whip-like tail into your leg or foot.

  • Avoid them: When you’re wading, do the stingray shuffle. Slide your feet along the sand instead of taking steps, and you’ll scare away the rays. Also, stay especially alert if you visit Seal Beach, Calif., where there are more stingray injuries than any place on Earth.
  • If they get you: The sting will hurt. A lot. To stop the pain, soak the area in a bucket of water that’s as hot as you can stand. If the ray leaves part of its barb in you, do not try to remove it. Go to a doctor immediately.


The damn jellies come in sizes ranging from specks of goo smaller than a dime to tentacled terrors that are 100 feet long. Don’t worry, you’re more likely to encounter a giant one in a horror movie than in the shallow water near the beach. But more than 150 million people are stung in U.S. waters annually. Few such stings are fatal, but all of them hurt.

  • Avoid them: When you see one floating along in the water, stay away. If you see one on the beach, don’t pick it up or step on it.
  • If they get you: Rinse the stung skin with seawater. Follow with cool water to ease the pain. Some jellyfish leave tiny spines in your skin when they sting – use tweezers to pull them out. Yes, meat tenderizer will reduce the swelling. No, peeing on the sting will not reduce the swelling, and will likely make it worse (that Friends episode was wrong).


OK, stop with the panic. Jaws was fiction. You are four times more likely to be killed by falling coconuts than by a shark. Really. But while shark attacks don’t happen often, they’re usually pretty bad when they do.

  • Avoid them: If you see a shark, get out of the water. Don’t scream and flail, or you’ll look like a wounded fish, a.k.a., a shark snack. Skip the shiny jewelry lest you look like a fish with shiny scales, a.k.a., a shark snack. Stay out of the water if you’re bleeding because blood is to a shark what the smell of BBQ is to you.
  • If they get you: Call 911. Duh.

Check out “Sunburns Are Stupid, So Don’t Get One” next!