Lupus: Immunity and Insects
Last updated: March 2023
Summer. The time I year I bask in the sun. I am one of the lucky ones, even with all the medications I take, I do not have sun sensitivity. I am also lucky not to have a butterfly rash. Stop gasping. I follow good sun etiquette using sunscreen and wearing hats.
Summers have their pluses: fewer RA flares due to the heat, the flu seems to disappear, kids retreat as vectors once school is out (weird how in schools these days, there are extinct diseases floating around like scarlet fever), and Raynaud’s takes a back seat.
As the flowers bloom, the insects are out in droves. Ants, mosquitoes, and other critters bite. For the average person, such insects are a common nuance – annoying at best. For lupus patients, it could mean grave illness or death if not treated.
How lupus medications worsen infections
Lupus medications decrease your immunity, for good reason. Your immune system is basically your enemy. Some medications for lupus prevent healing or worsen infections (ie, biologics, methotrexate, etc.). When infections occur, medications generally are stopped, of course with the knowledge of your doctor. Sadly this increases RA and autoimmune flares.
Who knew during my favorite time of year, a bug bite would be the death of me? What do you do when you don’t see the original wound till it’s too late?
Mosquito bites and lupus
I live in an area where mosquitoes are bountiful. Anywhere between 15-30 bites on my body, and I find that I’m on the brink of death. Mosquitos transmit bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Such bacteria, viruses, and parasites have an open buffet to grow in an immune-compromised person. Scratching also causes wounds to become infected. So, potholders and duct tape now become your friends just like life in the old chickenpox days. Things like sepsis show up, if not treated immediately.
Tips for preventing mosquito bites
Sadly, not all of my remedies can be or are natural. I am an outlier with the extreme effects of bites. Long, thick pants and sleeves are key in these conditions, even if it’s 115 degrees Fahrenheit outside. Jeans are harder to penetrate than leggings and make you sweat. The thicker the clothing the better. Tea tree oil is used as a natural repellent and added to my lotion after baths.
OFF!® brand bracelets are worn on each limb if I leave the house with the kids, and are pretty effective in situations where I need to be in a pool of water. OFF! brand candles are also lit in in every room to repel mosquitos. Raid® bombs are often used in rooms that have mosquitos that won’t disappear. My family and I went as far as placing an outdoor electric bug zapper in my room at night, and wow was that effective.
Hire a pest control company to remove any insects. Remove any standing water from around your home from recent rains, buckets, barrels, kids’ toys, the smallest puddles will create a nurturing home for mosquitos to breed. I also tend to stay away from the outdoors during the night, dawn, and dusk when the mosquitos are out in swarms.
Ant bites and lupus
Ants, like mosquitos, can cause serious infection – everyday yard ants – not fire ants, not bullet ants, not ants of the Amazon. I am cautious while I’m in our yard. In this instance, I just happened to be standing in one spot too long. With an ant bite, the average person will generally scream, jump while cursing and clean it off. One day, I received 2 single ant bites. Most individuals would not worry.
However, I am the lupus lotto girl. Within 24 hours, I developed edema and pain. The local urgent care and the ER, despite knowing my medical history, did nothing. I rushed to my doctor, however, it took 48 hours. That time-lapse was long enough to have created havoc in my system. Within 48 hours, my kidney and liver decreased function. Swelling progressed from my right leg to systemic. My doctor worked months to reverse the effects of this ant bite. Prolonged use of high doses of prednisone to keep me stable created loss of eyesight due to swelling of the retina.
Tips for preventing ant bites
Always wear long socks and closed-toed shoes. Unlike mosquitos, ants are generally ground-ridden and need direct contact to end up on your body. Hire a pest control company to spray your immediate yard and home to remove biting insects. Assess areas you are standing in for long periods of time.
At the end of the day, if you have lupus, you are susceptible to disease, even from insects. So be careful this summer.
Have there been things you have learned along your lupus journey that you wish had been explained to you by a healthcare provider earlier?