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Release Date: 4/4/2012

Don't let bug bites and stings spoil your fun

Julie Busch, M.D.

Dr. Busch, a family practitioner, is a member of St. Anthony's Physician Organization. She practices at Kirkwood Family Medicine, 10296 Big Bend Blvd., 314-543-5943.

Sultry, sticky summers are a tradition in St. Louis, and we love to complain about the heat and humidity.  But, due to the mild winter and balmy spring, this summer is projected to offer an additional reason to complain – an increase in the numbers of buzzing, biting and stinging insects that can make life miserable outdoors.

The most common nuisance is the mosquito. For most people the mosquito bite is nothing to worry about. Generally they bite, you itch, that’s it. In recent years, concern about mosquitoes transmitting West Nile virus has spurred people to take greater precautions to avoid mosquito bites, like staying indoors during peak swarming times – early morning and dusk – and applying insect repellant that contains diethyl-meta-toluamide (DEET) whenever you’re outdoors. Other precautions include wearing antiperspirant and light-colored clothing, since perspiration and bright colors attract insects, and avoiding perfume or scented hairspray, which attracts them.

If you’re a fan of camping or hiking or if you live or play in a wooded area, you may be bothered by ticks. Some ticks carry Lyme disease; but it takes 24 hours for a tick to transmit Lyme disease, so daily checks and prompt removal of ticks will minimize the risk.  About 80 percent of individuals with Lyme disease develop a rash near the bite that looks like a bull’s-eye. Other symptoms may include fever, headache, nausea and vomiting. If any of these symptoms occur, see your physician for possible treatment and testing for Lyme disease. To avoid ticks, cover as much of your skin as possible with clothing, including a hat, and use repellants containing DEET. To remove an attached tick, apply alcohol or nail polish remover, then pull it out gently with a tweezers. Wash the affected area to avoid infection.

While spider bites are rare and usually harmless, the Brown Recluse spider poses a real threat to people it bites. If there is a red, circular area around the bite with a black depression in the center, this is a signal that you may need medical treatment. For any spider bite, wash the area carefully with soap and water two to three times a day until skin is healed and apply an antibiotic ointment. Apply cool compresses for swelling and give acetaminophen for pain.

More painful and potentially more dangerous are the stings inflicted by bees, wasps and hornets.   An insect’s stinger can safely be removed from the skin with a tweezers by grasping the stinger close to the skin and pulling gently. Squeezing any part of the insect that may still be attached to the stinger may force additional toxins into the body. After the stinger is removed, the affected area should be thoroughly cleaned. A cold compress and an application of hydrocortisone cream will help reduce swelling and soothe the pain.

The greatest danger from stinging insects is for those who are allergic to the insect’s venom. They may exhibit labored breathing, wheezing, fainting and dizziness and go into shock within minutes. If any of these symptoms occur, call 911 and seek emergency care immediately.

If any insect bite or sting causes enough swelling or pain to distract you from your normal activities or keep you awake at night, despite basic treatment, see your physician.

With a few precautions, outdoor enthusiasts can happily enjoy nature during the dog days of summer – without being bugged.

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