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Archive for the ‘Bites and Stings’ Category

Bee Stings

Bee

Our most common local stinging insects are yellow jackets and bees. Yellow jackets are attracted to our delicious picnic food and are more aggressive than bees. They sting defensively when they feel that their nests are threatened. They also sting when stepped on, sat upon, or have in some way been provoked.  If one is being attacked by many bees or yellow jackets, it is best to vacate the area and run away as fast as possible.  These insects are capable of flying up to 15 miles per hour and pursuing for distances of 50 to 100 yards.  So don’t run too slow or stop too soon!

Wasps, including yellow jackets, can sting multiple times and leave no stingers in its victim. The  honey bee  sacrifices its life with its sting because it leaves the stinger and part of its abdomen with the venom sack attached to the skin of the victim.  This stinging apparatus continues injecting venom into its victim for up to one minute after the sting.  This is why the new accepted method to remove the stinger is just to pull it out with your finger tips as fast as possible.  Trying to take the time to find something to scrape off the stinger as was previously recommended just wastes time and allows more venom to be injected at the sting site.  Tests have proven that pinching out a stinger doesn’t force out more venom.

Stings are exceptionally painful. The best local treatment is to immediately place an ice pack on the sting site for up to several hours.  Home remedies such as applying pastes of meat tenderizer, clay, toothpaste, aspirin and baking soda, have no proven benefit.  Taking an antihistamine such as Benadryl by mouth, may help with itching.

A local toxic reaction to the venom occurring within hours to days after the sting may involve redness and swelling of just a small area around the sting or a much larger reaction often involving an entire arm or leg. As bad as this may seem, it is not serious and not life threatening and will resolve on its own in a matter of days.  These reactions are sometimes mistaken for a secondary infection but this is very rarely the case and antibiotics are hardly ever necessary.  A sting on the face may cause worrisome swelling but is not dangerous. A sting inside the mouth or throat however can be quite serious and needs emergency treatment promptly.

Almost every person who is stung will have at least a mild reaction around the sting site.  Less than one percent of the population will have a severe allergic reaction.

Serious allergic reactions may occur within minutes or up to several hours after the sting. Usually the more serious the reaction, the sooner the symptoms begin. For those who have suffered a serious reaction to a sting I would recommend a consultation with your doctor who may recommend allergy shots to make one less sensitive. An injectable adrenaline kit such as an “Epipen” may be prescribed to those who have had a very serious prior sting.

What to do when stung:

  • Pull stinger out as fast as possible by any method using fingers is now allowable.
  • Remove self from vicinity of stinging insects as fast and far as possible.
  • Apply ice compresses to sting.
  • Take Benadryl by mouth as soon as possible
  • Call 911 if you experience:
  • swollen tongue or throat.
  • difficulty swallowing.
  • tight breathing.
  • feeling faint.
  • severe hives.

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zika virus

I’m quite concerned when the deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that what authorities are learning about the Zika virus is “scarier than we initially thought.” There is certainly no need to panic at this time, but it does appear that this is a disease that we may eventually have to deal with in our locale. Fortunately, as of this writing, there have been no documented cases of mosquito borne Zika infection originating in California, only a few cases involving people who have returned after traveling to Zika infected areas outside of the U.S.

Zika infection is usually pretty mild. Most people infected with Zika virus won’t even know they have the disease because they won’t have symptoms. Pregnant woman are at greatest risk of complications to their fetuses and there are reports of associated Guillain-Barre syndrome (a rare paralysis of the body in infected adults).

On April 18th, the office of the Santa Cruz County Mosquito and Vector Control (MVC) released a report to the County Board of Supervisors about its local response to mosquitoes, including our native variety, which at this time does not transmit Zika, as well newly discovered more invasive species that have been found in other parts of California and have the potential to transmit Zika. These newer mosquitoes are, unfortunately, more aggressive and tend to bite more during daylight hours. The MVC office is increasing surveillance by setting out more traps throughout the county and asking for the public’s help in reporting any increased activity of mosquitoes biting during the daytime.

At this time the MVC advises us to:

  • Wear long sleeved shirts, pants, socks with shoes, and repellants when outside and anytime mosquitoes are present.
  • Dump and drain standing water sources around your property.
  • Report, to the MVC at 454-2590 any neglected swimming pools and other backyard standing water sources, as well as the observance of day biting mosquitoes.

These are a few of the safe, insect repellants even during pregnancy:

  • DEET (Off! Deep Woods, etc) is the gold standard repellant and is safe for kids over 2 months.
  • The stronger the DEET concentration the longer the time of protection.
  • Picardin (Natrapel, etc.) Less oily feel and odor than DEET but equally effective.
  • Oil of lemon eucalyptus (Cutter Lemon of Eucalyptus, etc.) for age 3 years and older.
  • Permethrin can be used on clothing or gear but not on skin.

If you are using sunscreen, apply it before using an insect repellant. When applying any repellant to children, spray it onto your hands and then apply to a child’s face.

Even if they do not feel sick, travelers returning to the United Sates from an area with Zika, should take steps to prevent mosquito bites for up to 3 weeks so as to not spread Zika to mosquitoes that could spread the virus to other people.

Again, no major need for worry about Zika virus in our community at this time, but it will probably arrive in the near future and we must be alert to this problem and begin to practice good mosquito bite protection practices.

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Tick Bites

tick bite

In Santa Cruz County, it is reported that less than five percent of the mature Western black-legged ticks and a somewhat higher percentage of the nymphal (baby) stage, carry the Lyme bacteria. Although many people worry after being bitten by a tick, the risk of acquiring an infection is quite low. In this article I’d like to discuss the tick bite and signs and symptoms of Lyme disease.

Neither the tick’s body nor its head burrows into the skin. Instead, the tick attaches by its mouthparts. An infected tick can transmit an infection only after it has been attached, taken blood from its host, and fed for 24 to 48 hours. If you find a tick on you that is unattached and non-engorged, it is unlikely to have transmitted an infection. Look carefully for the immature nymphal ticks, which are the size of a sesame seed. It helps to shower after clearing brush or walking in wild lands.

The proper method of removing a tick is to use a fine pair of tweezers and grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible. Pull it straight out, gently but firmly, without jerking or twisting. After removing the tick, wash your hands and the skin around the bite thoroughly with soap and water.

If, after removal, you see anything remaining in the skin, this represents tiny mouthparts of the tick. It is not the tick’s “head” and it cannot increase the risk of transmission of Lyme disease once the tick body is removed. If you are unable to remove the mouth parts easily, as you would a splinter, leave it alone and the skin should eventually heal. If you are concerned see your doctor.

Quite often, after an obvious tick bite, a red rash may develop at the site of the bite within the first 24 to 48 hours. A rash that develops this quickly after the bite is usually an allergic reaction to the saliva of the tick. It rarely grows beyond 2 inches, needs no treatment and disappears within a few days.

The actual Lyme’s rash, called erythema migrans, is reported to occur in up to 80 percent of infected tick bites. It is described as a red rash that is usually neither itchy nor painful. It develops a few days to a few weeks after a tick bite and is likely to be the first sign of Lyme disease. The rash most often continues to get larger over a period of time and will grow to be well over 2 inches, possibly 8 to 12 inches or more, and may last for several weeks. This rash may sometimes develop a pale appearance in the center, causing a bull’s eye shape.

Either during the time of the rash or shortly thereafter, other symptoms of Lyme disease may appear which resemble these common flu-like symptoms: fever and chills, malaise (achiness), headache, and achy joints.

The rash and/or the above flu-like symptoms may indicate early Lyme disease and you should see your doctor. When recognized during this early stage, most infections can be adequately treated.

If the above symptoms do not occur, are not recognized or are not treated properly, then one might develop late Lyme disease which can more severely affect different parts of the body such as the  joints, the nervous system, and the heart, to mention a few.

The bottom line is that whether you are aware of a recent tick bite or not, if you develop an unusual, unexplainable rash or if you develop flu-like symptoms (without respiratory symptoms), especially outside of the flu season, you should visit your doctor and discuss the possibility of Lyme disease.

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Late summer is the time we see more yellow jackets buzzing around us. These stinging insects are attracted to our delicious picnic food and are more aggressive than the common honeybee, but neither one usually attacks randomly. They sting defensively when they or their nests are threatened. They also sting when stepped on, sat upon or in some way provoked.

Yellow jackets can sting multiple times and do not leave behind their stingers. This is in contrast to the honeybee, which leaves its stinger in its victim. (It is now recommended to remove the stinger as quickly as possible, using one’s fingers to pull it out.)

Stings are very painful and are best treated by immediately placing ice over the sting. Taking the antihistamine Benadryl may also be helpful.

A reaction to the sting may occur within hours or days after the sting. It may be manifested by redness and swelling of just a small area around the sting or by a much larger reaction, often involving an entire arm or leg. This is just a toxic reaction to the venom and will resolve on its own in a matter of days. It is not an allergic reaction and, though it may feel uncomfortable, will cause no harm.

A sting on the face may cause worrisome swelling but is not dangerous. A sting inside the mouth or throat, however, can be quite serious and needs to be treated promptly. In this case, I would advise calling 911 to receive prompt evaluation and emergency treatment.

Serious, life-threatening reactions to a sting may occur within minutes or several hours. Usually, the worse the reaction, the sooner it occurs. Those who have a serious sting reaction should seek consultation with a physician who can prescribe an injectable adrenaline kit, such as an Epipen. This shot can be self-administered if one is having a potentially life-threatening reaction to a sting.

In summary, here’s what to do when stung:

– Pull the stinger out as quickly as possible, if it remains in the flesh.

– Get out of the vicinity of stinging insects, as fast and as far as possible.

– Apply ice compress to the sting.

– Take Benadryl by mouth.

– Call 911 if you experience a swollen tongue or throat with difficulty swallowing; tight breathing or shortness of breath; a feeling of faintness; or severe hives

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In my most recent column, I discussed the topic of rabies, especially what one should do if bitten by a possibly rabid animal. Now, I would like to describe animal bites in general.

The law requires that the local animal control office be contacted when any person or animal is bitten by another animal, whether the biting animal is wild or domestic. The phone number for the local Santa Cruz animal control office is 454-7303.

When a bite victim seeks medical treatment, the treating physician must also, by law, fill out an animal bite form and send it immediately to animal control. That is true even if the bite is from one’s own pet. An animal control officer will investigate and advise the animal owner about quarantining the animal, which is usually done at the owner’s home. Regardless of the animal’s vaccination history, it will be observed daily for 10 days following the bite for signs of rabies. If the isolated dog or cat is deemed healthy after 10 days, there is no risk of rabies from the original bite wound, and the bitten victim will not need to undergo the series of shots to prevent rabies.

Some animal bite statistics to consider:

More than 3 million animal bites are reported each year.

Emergency rooms see 300,000 animal-bite-related visits each year, costing about $160 million.

Eighty percent of bites are from dogs, 10 percent from cats and remaining 10 percent from other animals.

Children are the most frequent victims of dog bites, especially boys between 5 and 9 years old.

At least 50 percent of dog bites are from a family dog or a dog belonging to a neighbor.

Men are more frequently bitten by dogs than women (3 to 1), and women are more frequently bitten by cats (3 to 1).

Dog owners should be aware that many homeowner insurance policies will not cover certain biting-prone dog species and will often drop coverage or increase premiums after a single dog bite.

In general, dog bites cause less infection than cat bites. This is because dogs’ teeth are duller and less able to penetrate the flesh deeply, while cats’ teeth are sharper, proportionally longer and able to sink deeper. Infections are often evident after fewer than 24 hours.

Bites to the face, although cosmetically worrisome, are least prone to infection, and bites to the hands and fingers are most likely to become infected.

Seek medical treatment immediately for a bite anywhere on the body from any animal if:

**The wound is gaping (wide open).

** The wound won’t stop bleeding. (Always apply pressure first.)

**You have cosmetic concerns.

**You have a weakened immune system.

**The wound already appears infected.

**You need a tetanus booster.

I want to emphasize that if you have suffered what you believe to be more than just a superficial to bite to the hand from any source, be it a dog, a human, or especially a cat, see your doctor for wound evaluation and treatment as soon as possible.

You will most likely be treated with antibiotics before an infection develops. Hand infections — especially from bites — may be a cause for hospitalization if not treated promptly and aggressively.

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Two bats with rabies have recently been found in a Scotts Valley neighborhood. Is this cause for alarm? Not really, but it calls for a heightened awareness of what rabies is, how it is transmitted and what needs to be done for a known exposure.

Rabies is an infection caused by a virus. It is usually passed on to humans through the bite of a rabid (that is, rabies-infected) animal. Rarely, it can be transmitted if the saliva of an infected animal comes in contact with a break in the skin, such as a scratch, or with mucus membranes, such as the eyes, mouth or nose.

Once the virus enters a body, it travels along a nerve to the spinal cord and brain, where it causes encephalitis (brain infection). Once this happens, it is usually 100 percent fatal. That’s what makes this such a serious, although thankfully rare, disease. Although it might take one to three months for symptoms of rabies to show up, immediate treatment is necessary.

Rabies causes as many as 35,000 deaths worldwide each year, mostly in developing countries. Due to effective animal control and vaccinations begun in the 1940s, the incidence of rabies in our domestic animals in the U.S. has decreased dramatically. Dogs and cats now account for only 3 percent of animal rabies. Contrary to common thinking, cats are more rabies-prone than dogs. However, the incidence of rabies among wild animals has increased and poses our greatest concern.

To show how rare this disease is, the last case of human rabies reported from an exposure in California was in 2003. Although any mammal could be infected with rabies, in California, it is usually found in bats, skunks and, to a lesser extent, foxes. It is extremely rare in rodents, such as squirrels, rats, mice and chipmunks.

If you have been bitten by a possibly rabid animal, wash the wound immediately with soap and water. Then get professional treatment.

In Santa Cruz County, the only option for immediate treatment is a visit to the Dominican Hospital emergency room. This facility stocks a medication called “human rabies immune globulin,” which is an injection that must be given as soon as possible after a rabies exposure to protect your body from developing the infection. At the same time, you will be given the first of five necessary rabies vaccines, which will continue over the course of a month. These shots are given in the arm. This is a vast improvement from the much-feared older method of giving 20 to 30 shots in the abdomen.

After the initial emergency room treatment, I would advise that you immediately call your health insurance provider to see if the next four vaccine shots will be covered by insurance, and if so, you could go to most any urgent-care clinic for the necessary treatment.

For those without insurance, the local county health clinic on Emeline Avenue also stocks the necessary post-exposure vaccine. They charge $215 for each of the four injections and a nominal nursing visit charge to give the injection. The county clinic just needs an order from a physician for the clinic nurse to give the shots. Call 454-4114 to arrange this treatment, and remember that the timing is critical.

My next column will discuss how animal bites are reported to the authorities and what pet owners need to know if their pet has bitten someone or has been bitten by a possibly rabid animal.

Signs an animal might have rabies

**A wild animal seems unusually tame or unafraid and approaches you.

**A nocturnal animal, such as a bat or skunk, is found outdoors during the daytime.

**A pet develops difficulty eating, drinking, walking, or acting unusually strange.

**A bat is unable to fly or has been caught by a domestic dog or cat.

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In my July 16 column, I explained what to do when you’re bitten by a tick. Today, I will describe the symptoms of Lyme disease, which is carried by some ticks.

Quite often, after an obvious tick bite, a red rash may develop at the site of the bite within the first 24 to 48 hours. A rash that develops this quickly after the bite is usually an allergic reaction to the saliva of the tick. It rarely grows beyond 2 inches, needs no treatment and disappears within a few days.

The actual Lyme’s rash, called erythema migrans, is reported to occur in up to 80 percent of infected tick bites. Some would argue that it occurs less often. It is described as a red rash that is usually neither itchy nor painful. It develops a few days to a few weeks after a tick bite and is likely to be the first sign of Lyme disease. The rash most often continues to get larger over a period of time and will grow to be well over 2 inches, possibly 8 to 12 inches or more, and may last for several weeks. This rash may sometimes develop a pale appearance in the center, causing a bull’s eye shape, but this does not happen consistently enough to be a sure sign of Lyme disease.

Either during the time of the rash or shortly thereafter, other symptoms of Lyme disease may appear, which resemble common flu-like symptoms:

**Fever and chills

**Malaise (achiness)

**Headache

**Achy joints

The rash and the above flu-like symptoms are considered early Lyme disease. When treated properly during this stage, most infections are completely cured.

If the above symptoms do not occur, are not recognized or are not treated properly, then one might develop late Lyme disease manifested by the following signs:

**Severely painful joints

**Involvement of the nervous system, including Bell’s palsy (facial paralysis) and inflammation of the brain, spinal cord and peripheral nerves (known respectively as encephalitis, meningitis and peripheral neuropathy.)

n Heart problems, such as serious irregularities of the heart rhythm and inflammation of the heart muscle

Treatment for late Lyme disease involves months of heavy duty antibiotics with no guarantee of a complete cure.

Over the years of my practice, I have come to realize what a difficult and incompletely understood disease Lyme is. It is difficult to diagnose, because a significant number of those with Lyme disease don’t even recall being bitten by a tick. “Typical” symptoms may actually be very atypical or not present at all. Laboratory tests are not as accurate as we would like, and there is disagreement as to which tests are best.

There is also controversy as to the most effective treatment for early and late Lyme disease. There are “Lyme specialists” whose opinions vary greatly and whose treatment may seem excessive compared with traditional practitioners.

I personally follow the more traditional route, but because I feel that we don’t yet have all the answers on Lyme disease, I am open to “non-traditional” therapy as long as it seems to have good results and causes no harm. Research continues to improve the best treatment for this disease.

The bottom line is that whether you are aware of a recent tick bite or not, if you develop an unusual, unexplainable rash or if you develop flu-like symptoms, especially outside of the flu season, you should visit your doctor and discuss the possibility of Lyme disease.

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What is one to do after being bitten by a tick?

Ticks are tiny arachnids closely related to mites. There are many types of ticks in the United States, many of which are capable of transmitting infections. The risk of developing any of those infections depends on the type of tick, the geographical location, the season of the year and, especially in the case of Lyme disease, how long the tick was attached to the skin.

The risk of illness depends a great deal on where one lives or visits. People in a few areas of the United States are at a high risk of Lyme disease, especially in the mid-Atlantic, upper Midwestern states and several counties in northwestern California.

In Santa Cruz County, it is reported that 5 percent of ticks carry the Lyme bacteria, with the area around Nicene Marks State Park in Aptos having a somewhat higher concentration of Lyme risk.

Although many people worry after being bitten by a tick, the risk of acquiring an infection is quite low, even if the tick has been attached to the skin, has fed and actually carries the infectious Lyme germ.

Neither the tick’s body nor its head burrows into the skin. Instead, the tick attaches by its mouthparts. An infected tick can transmit an infection only after it has been attached, taken blood from its host and fed for 24 to 48 hours. An unattached, non-engorged tick can not have transmitted an infection.

There are an untold number of popular methods for removing an attached tick, including burning the tick, applying nail polish to its body, smothering it with oil and twisting it either clockwise or counterclockwise, and so on. These methods are ineffective and may cause the tick to inject more of its infected fluids into its host, thus increasing the chance of infection.

The proper method of removing a tick is to use a fine pair of tweezers and grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible. Pull it straight out, gently but firmly, without jerking or twisting. After removing the tick, wash your hands and the skin around the bite thoroughly with soap and water.

If, after removal, you see anything remaining in the skin, this represents tiny mouthparts of the tick. It is not the tick’s “head,” and it cannot increase the risk of transmission of Lyme disease once the tick body is removed.

There is some controversy concerning what to do if the tick’s mouthparts have remained in the skin. Technically, these mouthparts are no worse than having a small wooden splinter in your skin. Don’t waste your time trying to pull them out with a pair of tweezers, since the mouthparts are stuck together with small barbs and actually glued together.

If you’re brave, you can attempt to remove them after cleaning the area with alcohol, using a sterilized needle to tease them out as you would a splinter. If the bite was in a noncosmetic (unseen) area, the mouthparts can be left alone and will most likely fall out over time; but there is the chance they won’t and may leave a small bump. If the bite site is in a noticeable part of the body and you do not wish to deal with it, you can visit your doctor and have them removed.

Once the tick has been removed, it can be sent to a laboratory to have it tested for Lyme disease, but the tests are not perfect and may give either a false positive or false negative result, which can lead to confusion as to how to proceed with further treatment. Furthermore, it’s possible to have been infected by another tick of which you were never aware, and if symptoms should arise after the known tick tests negative, there’s a risk you might not seek treatment, believing you are not infected.

Therefore, it is more important to learn to recognize the symptoms of Lyme disease, because they might show up even after a negative test result. Anyone who exhibits Lyme symptoms needs to seek immediate evaluation and treatment from a doctor. I will discuss more about signs and symptoms of Lyme disease in a future column.

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Our most common local stinging insects are bees, including the honeybee and the bumblebee, and wasps, which include yellowjackets, paper wasps and hornets.

Yellowjackets are attracted to our delicious picnic food and are more aggressive than bees, but none of these stinging insects usually randomly attack people. They sting defensively, when they feel that their nests are threatened. They also sting when stepped on, sat upon or in some way provoked. Africanized “killer bees” are not more venomous than regular bees, but they get their bad reputation for being much more aggressive, and therefore more dangerous.

If one is attacked by many bees or yellowjackets, it is best to leave the area and run away as fast as possible. These insects are capable of flying as fast as 15 miles per hour and pursuing for distances of 50 to 100 yards. Don’t run too slowly or stop too soon!

A bee inside of a moving car will not usually sting and wants out as badly as the occupants want it out. Do not panic! Lowering windows to let it escape is the best way to deal with such a situation.

Bees and wasps only sting, they do not bite. Wasps, including yellowjackets, can sting multiple times and leave no stingers in their victims. This is in contrast to the poor honeybee, which sacrifices its life with its sting. It actually leaves its stinger and part of its abdomen with the venom sack attached to the skin of the victim.

The bee’s stinging apparatus continues injecting venom into its victim for as long as one minute after the sting. That is why the new accepted method to remove the stinger is just to pull it out with your fingertips as fast as possible. Taking the time to find something to scrape off the stinger, as was previously recommended, just wastes time and allows more venom to be injected at the sting site. Tests have proven that pinching out a stinger doesn’t force out more venom.

Stings are exceptionally painful. The best local treatment is to immediately place an ice pack on the sting site for as long as several hours. Home remedies, such as applying pastes of meat tenderizer, clay, toothpaste, aspirin and baking soda, have no proven benefit. That is probably because the venom is deposited deep into the skin, where such surface treatments can not be effective. Taking an antihistamine, such as Benadryl, by mouth may help with itching.

A local toxic reaction to the venom occurring within hours to days after the sting may involve redness and swelling of just a small area around the sting, or a much larger reaction often involving an entire arm or leg. As bad as this may seem, it is not serious and not life-threatening and will resolve on its own in a matter of days.

These reactions are sometimes mistaken for a secondary infection, but this is very rarely the case, and antibiotics are hardly ever necessary. A sting on the face may cause worrisome swelling, but it is not dangerous. A sting inside the mouth or throat, however, can be quite serious and needs to be treated promptly.

Almost every person who is stung will have at least a mild reaction at the sting site. Less than one percent of the population will have a severe allergic reaction.

Serious allergic reactions may occur within minutes or as long as several hours after the sting. Usually, the more serious the reaction, the sooner it occurs.

There is no definite pattern to the reaction of future stings, which may cause reactions either more severe or less severe than with previous stings. For those who have suffered a serious reaction to a sting, I would recommend a consultation with a medical care provider, who may recommend allergy shots to make the person less sensitive. An injectable adrenaline kit, such as an “Epipen,” may be prescribed to treat future serious allergic sting reactions.

Bee careful this summer!

At a glance

Here’s what to do when you’re stung by a bee or a wasp:

n
If the insect was a bee, pull the stinger out as fast as possible, by any method.

n
Get as far out of the vicinity of stinging insects as you can, as fast as possible.

n
Apply ice compresses to the sting.

n
Take Benadryl by mouth as soon as possible.

Call 9-1-1 if you experience the following symptoms:

n
Swollen tongue or throat

n
Difficulty swallowing

n
Tight breathing

n
A feeling of faintness

n
Severe hives

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The subject of “bites and stings” has always been of interest to me in my practice over the years. In particular, I have tried to educate patients about the brown recluse spider.

070408brownrecluse1

The brown recluse is all but unknown in California. Courtesy photo

Many have come to me with an open sore on their skin, attributing such a lesion to a brown recluse bite. Others also have stories of friends or family who have had “horrendous” brown recluse bites. Doctors have diagnosed and treated patients for brown recluse bites. The fact is that the brown recluse spider does not live in California.

It is native mostly to the central southern states and to the lower Midwestern states. Fewer than 10 specimens have ever been positively identified as brown recluse in California, and there is usually some connection between the spider and a recent shipment of goods from the southern states. Every story about the brown recluse I have ever heard is anecdotal and not based on the positive identification of the spider.

In the areas where the spider is in its natural habitat, it is usually found in groups and not as isolated specimens. They are very shy and “reclusive” and, as with almost all biting spiders, they will only bite when threatened. The most likely source of a bite in its natural habitat is from someone putting on clothing in which the spider has been hiding.

So, what causes a skin wound that is mistaken for a brown recluse bite? Bites from other spiders and insects, as well as localized infections of the skin, would top a long list of conditions causing such lesions.

What spiders do we need to be concerned about? The bad news is that almost all spiders are technically poisonous. The good news is that of the tens of thousands of spider species, only about 20 of them are capable of biting a human. Most have mouth parts too small or weak to penetrate human skin.

It is reassuring that virtually all spiders are essentially nonaggressive and do not deliberately bite humans. The likelihood of a spider lurking in our bedding or dropping onto us from the ceiling is very remote.

The black widow spider is common in our locale. I would venture to say that every house in this area has a black widow hiding under or behind something in the garage, attic, basement, storage shed, etc. These spiders are also nonaggressive and usually have to be provoked to bite a human.

Black widow bites are very rarely fatal and probably cause death less often than lightning strikes. The most common symptom of a black widow bite is muscle cramps, especially involving the abdomen and sometimes mimicking appendicitis.

070408blackwidow1

The black widow is everywhere. Courtesy photo

We also live in an area with scorpions that sting and tarantulas that bite. Neither one of these in our locale is lethal; however, an encounter with them can be painful. It is also a fact that daddy longlegs spiders are nonpoisonous.

In general, we humans have a great fear and disgust of spiders. We squash them, sweep them out and smother them with pesticides. But spiders are actually beneficial to humans, in that they eat many insects, especially those that are carriers of disease or are disgusting to us, such as cockroaches, mosquitoes and earwigs. Little Miss Muffet should have held her ground and not been “frightened away.”

For those interested in a more in-depth article regarding the myth of brown recluse spider bites, I refer you to http://spiders.ucr.edu/myth.html.

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