Stings and Bites

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Stings and Bites

As the days grow longer and warmer, many of us feel the urge to return to the earth. It's time to trim, weed, mow, and remove the brown leftovers of winter. It's time to fertilize, water, and plant to bring on the green. It's also time to think "Safety first!"

As we get out and move around more as spring begins, so do a wide variety of critters: bees, wasps, caterpillars, spiders, ants, scorpions and snakes.

What is probably the most common insect problem in our area is the imported fire ant. Any gardener can tell you that they appear when and where you least expect. Since they swarm to the attack, fire ant stings can be numerous and are very uncomfortable.

Fire ants are members of the insect family hymenoptera, which also includes bees, wasps, hornets, "dirt daubers", and yellow jackets. The most severe problem which can result from contact with any of these insects is an allergic reaction to the venom. If there is any dizziness, difficulty breathing, or tightening of the chest or throat, the patient should seek medical attention immediately. People who have reacted to stings before should immediately seek medical attention, because each subsequent allergic episode will be progressively worse.

First aid for these injuries is simple. The wound needs to be cleaned thoroughly with soap and water and an ice pack can be applied to the area to help reduce the pain and swelling. If the attacker was a bee, you should carefully examine the injury site and remove the stinger if it is present. Scrape the stinger off the injury site. If you grab and squeeze the stinger with your fingers or tweezers you can actually inject more venom into the patient.

You should seek medical attention if there is any suspicion of an allergic reaction, multiple stings, or stings around the eyes.

There is a small, fuzzy caterpillar in our area which can deliver a painful sting. Known by the unflattering name of puss caterpillar, this critter is small, teardrop shaped, with a furry, pointed tail. Its venom is on the end of the hairs which look like fuzz. Upon contact, there is a sever, burning pain which can spread into the armpit, if you are stung on an upper extremity, or the groin, if the injury is on your leg. At the injury site there will be redness, swelling, and small blisters will form. First aid is standard: thoroughly clean the wound and use ice packs for pain and swelling.

Always be alert to signs and symptoms of allergic reaction and seek medical help if necessary.

There are really only three types of spiders whose bites prompt visits to the emergency room; the black widow, the brown recluse, and the tarantula. In fact, only the first two possess poisonous venom, but the frightening appearance of the tarantula and the myths associated with it impel the victim to seek emergency assistance.

Only the female black widow bites. Her body is round and glossy black, on average about one half inch long, and the abdomen is marked with a characteristic red or orange "hourglass. She likes to hang around rocks, debris, basements, garages, storerooms, and outhouses. Her presence in the last location makes for some painful bites in extremely sensitive locations.

A black widow bite is not very painful initially- only a small pinprick feeling. However, a dull, numbing pain develops in the bitten area and rapidly spreads, within 10 or 15 minutes to neighboring muscle groups. The victim can experience severe stomach cramps or pain in the shoulder, back or chest. Nausea, sweating, headache, and vomiting are common. In severe cases these symptoms may progress to paralysis, seizures, shock , and respiratory arrest.

Victims of a black widow bite must seek medical attention. Antivenin must be administered at the hospital to neutralize the effects of the bite. If at all possible, take the spider to the medical facility for definite identification.

The brown recluse is smaller than the black widow and can be identified by a fiddle-shaped marking on its back. Inside, this spider likes to hide in closets, attics, trunks, stored shoes and clothing; outdoors it prefers woodpiles or under rocks.

The bite of the recluse is usually painless; often the victim doesn't notice the bite or the spider. Pain begins several hours later, when the bitten area becomes red and tender and one or more small blisters start to form. Over several days the venom continues to work and the area becomes dark and ulcerated. Recluse bites leave a depressed, ugly scar. Allergic reactions are uncommon and usually do not develop during the first 24 hours after the bite.

Emergency treatment consists of thoroughly cleaning the wound and applying ice packs. Medical treatment should be sought. Often it is difficult to positively identify that the bite was caused by a recluse, because the symptoms appear so long after the bite.

Tarantula bites cause pain and swelling at the site. While painful, the bite is usually not dangerous. The wound should be thoroughly cleaned and ice packs can be used to help reduce the pain and swelling.
There are only two species of scorpions, out of the 30 or so that live in the U.S., that possess dangerous venom. Although rare, both can be found in Texas. Most scorpion stings produce a painful but harmless sting that can be handled by cleaning the wound and applying ice packs to help reduce pain and swelling.
The venom of our two rare species attacks the nervous system. The sting is quite painful and produces a "pins and needles" sensation that spreads to affect the entire limb. Allergic reactions generally begin in about an hour after the bite and usually start with itching in the nose, mouth and throat along with difficulty with speech. The victim may first become excited, then drowsy and numb. There may be muscle spasms, nausea, vomiting and seizures. Medical assistance is necessary. Once again, antivenin must be administered at the hospital to neutralize the poison.


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