Friday, May 10, 2013

Bug Bites and Stings – When to Seek Medical Help

As the weather starts to warm up, many people enjoy spending more time outdoors; trips to the pool or playground, cookouts and gardening are all fun outside activities for children and adults. Unfortunately, insects also tend to like the warmer temperatures, which leads to an increased chance of people being bitten or stung during the spring and summer months. Not all bugs are harmful, but some, like ticks and mosquitoes, can carry disease. Others, like bees and wasps, have venom in their stingers that may cause severe allergic reactions.

Most bites and stings can be treated at home with soap and water to keep the area clean and ice to reduce swelling. Over-the-counter products (both oral and topical) may offer additional relief from pain and itching. How do you know if medical attention is needed? Watch for the following symptoms:
  • Worsening of redness/soreness, or development of fever. These may signal that the bite or sting has become infected. Your primary care physician may prescribe an antibiotic to treat the infection.
  • Fever, headache, fatigue and a circular “bull’s-eye” red patch on the skin. These are symptoms of Lyme disease, which is spread by the bite of an infected tick. The good news is that early treatment with antibiotics usually results in a quick recovery.
  • Fever, nausea, vomiting, severe headache, muscle pain, lack of appetite and red, spotted rash that appears six or more days after initial symptoms begin. All are signs of Rocky Mountain spotted fever, which is also treated with antibiotics. Some people may not develop the characteristic rash, however.
  • Flu-like fever, headache, body aches and skin rash. These may indicate possible infection with West Nile virus. While West Nile can be fatal in severe cases, most people have mild disease and recover on their own.
  • Sneezing, hives, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, difficulty breathing, chest tightness, and itching/swelling of the eyes, lips, or other areas of the face within seconds or minutes of a bite/sting. Symptoms like these indicate anaphylaxis, a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction. This is a medical emergency that warrants calling 9-1-1 immediately.

To help prevent bugs from biting and stinging in the first place, use an insect repellent that has an EPA registration number on the label. This means it has been evaluated to ensure that it won’t have unreasonable harmful effects on people and the environment. You can also:
  • Avoid wearing perfumes, scented soaps or lotions.
  • Cover food and drinks when you dine outdoors.
  • Try not to wear bright colors, which can attract bees.
  • Eliminate sources of standing water on your property (mosquitoes use standing water as a breeding ground).

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