• Judith Wallace

Bites and Stings

Summertime is filled with fun activities that take us outside throughout the day and evening hours. This makes summer the prime time for bug bites and stings. Getting a bug bite is annoying but can also be worrisome if you don't know what tiny creature gave you that itchy, red spot. Most bug bites and stings from common insects are harmless and heal quickly. However, some bug bites and stings, like those from fire ants, wasps, hornets, and bees, may cause intense pain or even a serious allergic reaction. Others, like poisonous spider bites (yes we do have them in PA), require immediate emergency medical care. These bites can cause significant tissue damage and widespread infection. Finally, there are those bites which cause severe allergic reactions in certain susceptible people. These allergies can suddenly appear after a bite even if they've never caused a problem in the past.

Symptoms of bug bites provide clues to the cause and severity. For example, most bug bites cause red bumps with pain, itching, or burning. Some bug bites also feature blisters or welts. Here are some common bug bite clues:

  • Bee stings usually cause a swollen red area white around it. The swollen area can be significantly larger than the red spot.

  • Flea bites leave an itchy welt on the skin, often on the ankles and legs.

  • Mosquitoes leave a raised, itchy pink skin bump or in rare cases a severe allergic reaction.

  • Spider bites can cause minor symptoms like red skin, swelling, and pain at the site or with certain spiders, very serious symptoms that need emergency care.

  • Ticks can carry Lyme disease, and their bite leaves a rash that looks like an expanding bull's-eye. Lyme disease can have a life-long impact on health.

  • Hornet, wasp, and bee stings can cause anaphylaxis (swelling of breathing passages and cardiovascular emergency).

Most bug bites are transmitted directly from the insect and occur outdoors, although spider bites can also occur indoors in cabins, basements, barns or pavilions.

Certain bug bites can also spread illnesses, such as Zika virus (Southern states), West Nile virus (Southern states), - both transmitted by mosquitos; Lyme disease (from ticks); and Rocky Mountain spotted fever (from dogs or wood ticks). If your travels take you to tropical areas, mosquitoes carry other serious diseases such as Malaria, and Dengue Fever.

The CDC tracks insect borne diseases and has been reporting substantial increases in cases in the US over the past 10 years. There are many reasons for this including changes in reporting requirements, societal changes, decreasing public awareness and concern and changing geographical climates to name a few. The implication is clear: protect yourself from insects like mosquitoes and ticks.

How can you prevent bug bites? Here are some tips from the CDC:

  • Use an insect repellent that's been registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). (The EPA has published an online tool to help you determine which one is appropriate in many varying conditions.)

  • Wear clothing that covers the skin when working or playing outdoors.

  • Check your skin for ticks on a daily basis (ticks are now common in yards and flower beds).

  • When traveling, find out what shots or medicines you may need and any precautions you can take.

No matter what type of bug bite you have, it is good to know what bit you. Learning to identify a bug bite by how it looks and feels will help you know whether to treat the bug bite at home or seek immediate medical care. If a bite is particularly itchy, red or swollen, don't assume that it's just an annoying mosquito could be much more.

If you have known allergies to bug bites, talk with your physician about emergency care. Some people with severe allergies to bug bites need to have allergy medicine, including epinephrine (such as an EpiPen), with them always.

Be Well!

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