Summer Insect Survival Guide

The summer is full of promises of relaxation and good times. But along with the barbecues, theme parks, and vacations come insects and all the irritations that they bring. Generally, insect bites are harmless, resulting in no more than an annoying itch that lasts for a few days. However, in rare instances, a bite can result in serious problems.

Wasps, honeybees, and yellow jackets are some of the more notorious stinging pests, and they result in approximately 100 deaths per year. Also watch out for mosquitoes, horseflies, spiders, and ticks, which can still cause distress. The following guide will help you recognize, treat, and prevent stings and bites from the summer's multi-legged pests.

Scenario: You've been bitten by a mosquito or horsefly.
Symptoms: The most common reaction to a mosquito or horsefly bite is swelling, redness, and itching in the affected area. However, some mosquitoes may carry the West Nile virus or other microorganisms. Mild infections result in fever, headache, and rash where the bite had occurred. In rare but severe cases, disorientation, neck stiffness, and sleepiness can occur. The death rates from West Nile range from 3 to 15 percent, depending on the person's age and overall health.
Survival Tip: Because mosquitoes and horseflies lay eggs in or around bodies of water, try to keep your property free of standing water. If you have a swimming pool, keep it covered when it's not in use and use a pump to keep the water flowing. When going outside for an extended period of time, try to wear long sleeves and pants. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends using insect repellents containing 50 percent of the chemical DEET. If you've been bit, try not to scratch, as it can lead to scarring or an infection. Instead, use an antihistamine cream for the itch.

Scenario: You've been stung by a honeybee, wasp, or yellow jacket.
Symptoms: A bee sting usually causes minor burning sensations, swelling, and itching. However, for those who are allergic, a sting can be life threatening. It can cause anaphylactic shock-difficulty breathing, drop in blood pressure, and wheezing. Another sign of an allergic reaction is swelling, particularly if it moves to the neck or face.
Survival Tip: Most stings occur because the bee is protecting the hive. So, for the most part, Mom was right when she said, "If you don't bother the bee, it won't bother you." However, stings aren't always avoidable. Start by staying away from hives, and call pest control if one has been built on or near your home. If you are stung, wash the area with soap and water, remove the stinger with a gauze pad, and apply a cold compress. If the person who is stung is allergic, immediately administer epinephrine injection and consult a doctor.

Scenario: You've been bitten by a tick or have found a tick attached to your skin.
Symptoms: Tick bites are painless, and you may not even realize you've been bitten until you find a tick attached to your skin, which means the tick has probably sunk its pinchers into you. Ticks can transmit diseases such as Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Look for symptoms such as weakness, confusion, rashes, pain and/or swelling in joints, fever, nausea, or other flu-like symptoms.
Survival Tip: To avoid ticks, wear long-sleeve shirts, long pants, and a hat when camping, hiking, or hunting. Insect repellents can work against ticks, but it is best to cover up.

If you find a tick on your body, follow these steps to remove it.

  • Using tweezers or forceps, gently turn the tick over onto its back. Then grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible. Pull gently until the tick lets go.

  • Do not crush the tick after removal. Smashing it may transmit diseases it's carrying. Flush it down the toilet, or preserve it in a jar in the case you need it to determine how or why an illness occurred.

  • If the head or pinchers are still embedded, get a doctor to remove them. Otherwise, cleanse the area with soap and warm water.

Scenario: You've been bitten by a spider.
Symptoms: Like bee stings, spider bites are usually nothing more than an irritation. Only a few spiders found in the United States, including the brown recluse and black widow, are dangerous. The bite of the brown recluse is usually painless and will heal itself in a few days. However, on rare occasions, it can result in itching, vomiting, severe pain in the affected area, fever, blistering, necrosis of the skin, and blue discoloration. The black widow's venom is one of the most potent in the world. If you're bitten, symptoms can include abdominal pain, local pain around the site of the bite, nausea, fever, and sweating. Contrary to popular lore, death from a black widow bite is rare. Only one percent of those bitten die.
Survival Tip: To prevent encounters with these two poisonous predators, eliminate garage and shed clutter, frequently clean the inside your home, and keep firewood and debris away from the foundation of your house. If you are bitten by a brown recluse, you should wash the area with soap and cool water, elevate the affected area, and apply a cold compress. Do NOT apply heat; it will expedite tissue deterioration. See a doctor if your symptoms do not go away or if they get worse. If you are bitten by a black widow, see a doctor immediately. Home remedies are generally ineffective.

Scenario: You've been bitten by fire ants.
Symptoms: Although black ants are no more than six-legged construction workers, fire ants (also known as red ants) are territorial, aggressive, and can inflict severe pain when bitten. A fire ant bite creates an intense burning sensation—which is how the bug gets its name—and produces pustules. Pustules, which are puss-filled blisters, are uncomfortable and can become infected. In some cases, numerous fire ant bites can lead to anaphylactic shock, which requires emergency treatment.
Survival Tip: Even though they are small, fire ants are dangerous and should be taken seriously. They are known to swarm and attack pets, wild animals, and baby animals. They can cause intense pain, discomfort, and, rarely, even death. If you find fire ants on your property, inform pest control immediately. Keep others away from the nest. If bitten, a steroid cream, aloe, or oral antihistamine can be used to relieve any irritation, although medical attention may be necessary.