Insect and spider bites are commonplace, but the reactions to them can range from mildly irritating to life-threatening. If it’s been awhile since you’ve reviewed the basics about insect bites and stings, the information below can help.
Bees, wasps, hornets, yellow jackets and fire ants all belong to the same family of insects. Bees will sting once, losing their stingers (and their lives) in the process. In contrast, wasps, hornets and yellow jackets all can sting a person repeatedly, without damage to their own bodies. Fire ants also will bite a person repeatedly, often in a circular pattern. Ticks will bite and attach, letting go only once they’ve filled up on blood.
For most people, their only reaction to an insect bite or sting will be a small bump or welt at the site of the injury, accompanied by pain and itching that can last from a few hours up to a few days. If there are multiple stings or bites (10 or more), then toxic reactions are much more likely, especially for infants, small children and seniors. Toxic reactions also are common following single or multiple bites from black widow and brown recluse spiders, hobo spiders, scorpions and puss caterpillars (also known as “wooly slugs”).
When a Reaction is Severe
Known as anaphylaxis, severe allergic reactions to bites and stings are rare, but they can be life-threatening. A trip to the emergency room is warranted when a person’s symptoms following a sting or bite include:
* Coughing/wheezing/difficulty breathing
* swelling of the lips, tongue, ears, eyelids, palms of the hands or soles of the feet
* Severe headache
* Diarrhea/stomach cramps
* hives/reddening of the skin/rashes
In rare instances, a mosquito bite can transmit West Nile virus or malaria. A bigger danger in North America, however, is the risk of illnesses such as Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, both of which are contracted from tick bites. If it’s not kept clean, the site of a bite can also become infected, which may warrant a trip to the doctor’s office.
Keeping Bugs at Bay
Perhaps the first rule to remember is that bugs hate DEET, the chief chemical in most commercial insect repellent sprays. Adults should use a solution that’s up to 30 percent DEET; for children that amount should be less than 10 percent.
It’s also recommended that you minimize time spent outdoors at dusk, the time when mosquitoes are most active. Make sure there’s no standing water near your home, where mosquitoes can breed, and be alert for fire ant mounds, wasps’ nests and other potential sources of stings and bites. If you’re working or walking in a wooded area, be sure to wear long pants and a long-sleeved shirt, to help ward off insects. Finally, be sure to check your body thoroughly for insect bites after any extended time outdoors. If you’re bitten or stung, wash the site with soap and water to get rid of any bacteria and traces of venom.