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Enjoy spring, but don’t forget the bug spray

As temperatures in the mid-valley slowly increase as the mid-valley’s spring marches onward, this seems like a good time to remind you of some of the horrible things that can happen when the weather turns warmer.

On the top of the list is a new warning from our friends at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Health officials reported recently that the number of people getting diseases transmitted by mosquito, tick and flea bites has more than tripled in recent years. Furthermore, since 2004, at least nine such diseases have been discovered or newly introduced in the United States, according to a report in The New York Times.

Although much of the uptick (pun intended, more or less) is concentrated in states that tend to have warmer weather, it’s not limited merely to the South: New tick-borne diseases such as the Heartland virus (which we never have heard of before and, based solely on the name, have decided we don’t want to know about) are growing, along with cases of Lyme disease and other infections.

And growing in a hurry: Between 2004 and 2016, the Times reported, about 643,000 cases of 16 insect-borne illnesses were reported to the CDC. In 2004, the CDC received 27,000 reports. In 2016, that number had risen to about 96,000. (The agency used 2004 as the baseline because that was the year it started to require more detailed reporting about these illnesses.)

Of course, as the CDC noted, the actual number of infections almost certainly is much larger: For example, the CDC estimates that about 300,000 Americans get Lyme disease each year, but only about a tenth of those cases (35,000 in this case) are reported.

It’s worth noting that the health officials at the CDC did not urge Americans to hole up inside their houses this summer and to don biohazard suits for those occasions when they absolutely have to go outside — although the CDC is, of course, a notorious killjoy.

Instead, CDC officials issued a fairly common-sense suggestion: When you go outside, don’t forget the bug repellent.

The CDC also urged consistent funding for local and state health departments, which remain the first line of defense against these illnesses but which remain underfunded. In the words of Dr. Robert Redfield, the new head of the CDC: “We must enhance our investment in their ability to fight these diseases.”

Redfield was too good a sport to note that the CDC itself is facing the prospect of steep budget cuts, part of the consistent underfunding of the nation’s scientific enterprises. This unfortunate trend predates the Trump administration, but you can be sure that we’ll be paying the price for it sooner or later. (And probably sooner.)

In the meantime, make a note to grab the bug repellent at the same time that you’re tracking down the sunscreen. It can be an ugly mixture, these first few sunny days and tender Oregon skin.

And speaking of spring cautions: As the temperature rises into the 70s and 80s, so does the temptation to cool off in some of the mid-valley’s streams, rivers and other bodies of water. You always want to exercise caution when spending time around the water, but this is the time of year when a little extra care is called for: The water may seem inviting, but it’s still running cold — and, in some cases, fast.

Fast-running rivers can conceal debris and other potential dangers to swimmers. And hypothermia is a real danger this early in the season.

So follow these common-sense tips: Always swim with a friend and stay in designated swimming areas. Be certain to provide constant supervision to children in or near the water. Wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket.

And don’t forget this after you climb out of the water and towel off: Now it’s time to put on another coating of bug repellent.

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