By Carrie Brazeal, TSB Contributor
When’s the last time you were bitten by an insect? Summer seems to always bring out all kinds of bugs. Bug bites and stings, for the most part, are usually kind of annoying but basically harmless. Every once in a while, though, an insect bite or sting can cause serious problems. You should know when an ice pack can bring relief or when a visit to your local hospital is needed.
Here are some common insects and what to do if you get bitten:
Bee and Wasp Stings. For most people, these stings are a little painful. The affected area may get a little red or swollen but that’s about it. For others, though, stings can cause real problems for those who are allergic. A person can get a localized allergic reaction (swelling, heat, or itching of the skin around the bite area) or a systemic allergic reaction, which means the poison causes a reaction throughout a person’s body, not just around the bite area. If this happens, the person may break out in hives, experience breathing problems or rapid heartbeat, and their face, lips or tongue may swell. Seek medical help immediately since severe allergic reactions can be fatal.
Flea and Tick Bites. Fleas are mostly annoying. They are often found on dogs and cats but they can also be attracted to you. Ticks, on the other hand, are known to carry Lyme disease. The northeastern and upper Midwestern states are most affected by the threat of disease by ticks. Ticks can carry other diseases also. The key is to get them off your body as soon as possible. Remove ticks with a pair of tweezers as soon as you notice them. Be sure to pull a tick out from the head, which is closet to your skin, to ensure that you remove the entire insect.
Mosquito Bites. Summer in north Central Texas isn’t complete with mosquitos. They are found in standing water so removal of the water is important to get rid of mosquitos. There is some concern about West Nile virus, which is transmitted to humans by mosquitos. Less than 1% of the people who are infected with West Nile virus become seriously ill but there have already been reports of West Nile this year. Get rid of all standing water as a precaution.
Spider Bites. Most spider bites are minor although they can cause mild swelling or allergic reactions. But watch for brown recluse and black widow spiders. Not everyone who is bitten has a reaction but you should get medical assistance quickly if you are bitten by one of these spiders. A brown recluse is brown with a small shape of a violin in a darker brown area on the back of its head. They are small (about ½-inch long) and like to hide in dark, quite places like attics and garages. The black widow spider is easily identified by its shiny coal-black body and orange hourglass shape on its underbelly. Like the brown recluse, you may not know that you’ve been bitten until you start experiencing symptoms: painful cramps, nausea, chills, fever and headache. Seek medical treatment immediately if you experience symptoms.
With most of these stings and bites, wash the affected area with soap and water and keep it clean. An ice pack may help reduce swelling. A 1% hydrocortisone cream may reduce redness, swelling, itching and pain.
For more information about preventing bites and stings, go to http://teanshealth.org.
For most people, bites and stings are more of an annoyance than anything else. But in case you are bitten or stung, know what to do and when to seek medical attention just to be on the safe side.
Carrie T. Brazeal is the County Extension Agent for Family and Consumer Sciences for Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. She may be reached at email@example.com or 972.424.1460, Ext. 4233.