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This summer, don’t let the little things bug you
By: Les Riess, M.D.
During the summer months, you stay away, spray, and even swat them when necessary. Why? Because the bites and stings of insects cause pain, discomfort, and for some, life threatening symptoms.
Mosquitoes, unlike gnats, can occasionally pack a more serious punch. Certain mosquitoes have been known to carry the West Nile virus. While it’s received a lot of media attention, in most cases the West Nile virus is not serious. People experience mild symptoms and may not even realize they have been infected. For about one-percent, however, the West Nile virus affects the brain or spinal cord, causing encephalitis, meningitis, or paralysis.
The best way to avoid mosquito or gnat bites is to stay away from areas where they are plentiful. Avoid wearing perfumes, scented hairsprays, or scented deodorants, and use an insect repellent on clothing and exposed skin. When using a repellent that contains DEET on children, be sure that it is a concentration of no more than 10 percent, and that it is applied no more than twice a day.
If a bee, wasp, hornet, or yellow jacket stings you, or someone with you, remove the stinger as soon as possible by scraping over the stinger with a credit card or other rigid object. Don’t pull the stinger (which resembles a splinter) out with your fingers, because squeezing it could release more venom into the skin. Wash the site with soap and water, and apply cool compresses or ice packs to prevent swelling. Calamine lotion, hydrocortisone cream, or Benadryl (topical or oral) can all help to alleviate itching and swelling.
Unlike bees, wasps, hornets, and yellow jackets can sting multiple times. Multiple stings can produce a more serious reaction because more venom enters the body.
For some people, bee, wasp, hornet, and yellow jacket stings can be a matter of life and death because they are highly allergic to the venom of a sting. People with this condition will experience symptoms such as hives, dizziness, and swelling of the throat and nose (causing an inability to breathe). Severe reactions happen quickly – within minutes – after being stung.
Many people who know they have a high sensitivity to stings carry an EpiPen – which contains medication to counter the symptoms of the venom. Some people may be highly sensitive and not yet know it. If you experience severe symptoms – such as hives, dizziness, and swelling of the airways – after being stung by a bee, wasp, hornet, or yellow jacket, seek medical attention immediately.
If the tick has attached to the skin, grip it with a tweezers near its head to remove as much of the tick as possible. If you are not able to remove the entire tick, you may want to contact your health care provider.
Lyme disease is caused by the bite of a deer tick infected with a certain type of bacteria. Deer ticks are much smaller than their counterpart – wood ticks. In its nymph state, a deer tick is about the size of a pinhead. The first symptoms of Lyme disease usually occur a few weeks after a tick bite. A circular rash at the site of the bite may appear with fever, headache, muscle or joint pain, or a flu-like illness. If you experience these symptoms, contact your health care provider as soon as possible. The most effective treatments for Lyme disease occur when it is detected early.
For the most part, bites and stings from insects are a bothersome nuisance, but nothing serious or life threatening. Common symptoms include: swelling, redness, itching, burning, numbness, and tenderness. If more severe symptoms, such as muscle spasms, vomiting, fever, convulsions, or difficulty breathing occur, it is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Summer is coming, and whether we like it our not, we’ll share the warm weather with our six-legged friends. Avoiding contact, using insect repellent, and treating bites and stings with topical lotions such as Calamine or hydrocortisone, can help making sharing our world with insects more tolerable, and our summer more enjoyable.
Dr. Riess is a board certified family practice physician at Raiter Clinic in Cloquet.