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Summer Bites

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Having my legs and arms covered with insect bites indicates that summer has arrived. With summer’s heat, fog, and humidity, buzzing bees, marching ants, and swarming mosquitoes invade our world, thriving from late spring and throughout the entire summer, which is their prime time.

Unhealthy as they are, these insects and a variety of other stinging and biting bugs may not be life-threatening; yet they can certainly spoil our summer fun. Just imagine having barbeques with friends and family, spending time by the pool or at the beach, or simply taking a walk in the open air in the company of flying insects; it is bound to put a damper on your otherwise fun or relaxing time. For both your health, as well as your pleasure, it is important to be able to recognize harmful insects to protect yourself and your family during summertime.

It is Insects Time

The world has more than a million known species of insects; all of them are beneficial to the environment and to humans one way or the other, but there are some that can inflict harm to humans and animals.

Insects are less plentiful in winter but they do manage to survive through it. They have a variety of methods to survive the effects of cold weather; some insects migrate to warmer places or at least places with better conditions, while others go into a state of hibernation called diapause. During this period, insects become completely metabolically inactive; they do not eat, drink or grow for a period that can extend to months, so they do not have to use their energy in order to survive for long periods.

Summer generally brings about warmer weather, higher rates of humidity, and an abundance of plant and animal life, where the insects are more comfortable, have plenty to eat, and their breeding peaks.

The Insects Attack

There are dozens of insects whose bites or stings cause problems; they can be split into two categories: venomous and non-venomous. The difference lies in the nature of the bite or sting.

Venomous insects attack as a defense mechanism, injecting venom through their stings, which usually results in a local skin reaction; a reddened, painful area, with the possibility of an itchy sensation that can last up to five days. Scratching can cause infection; moreover, multiple stings can result in a more generalized reaction that includes vomiting, diarrhea, swelling and collapse. In sensitive individuals, a systemic or “whole body” reaction occurs, with redness, hives (itchy raised skin lumps), and swelling far away from the sting site.

Non-venomous insects, on the other hand, bite in order to feed on your blood. These bites are usually less painful than stings, with skin reactions that do not last long. Biting insects themselves are not generally dangerous because allergic reactions are rare. However, transmission of diseases, such as Malaria and yellow fever, is more of a concern with insect bites, but for most of us their bites just cause terrible itching.

Bees

Bees use a stinger to inject venom into their victims; however, only females have a stinger attached to their abdomens. When bees inject their stinging apparatus into the skin of their victims, it detaches from the rest of the bee, which later dies.

Bee stings are painful and can be deadly, depending on the history of the victim; most people who are stung by bees develop a reaction at the site of the sting that causes pain, swelling, redness, and itching. Others will experience larger areas of swelling, which can last up to a week. If a bee-sting victim has had allergic reactions to bee stings in the past, consider the possibility of anaphylaxis; a life-threatening allergic reaction.

Treatment: The best way to reduce any reaction is to remove the bee stinger as quickly as possible. Apply ice to the area to reduce the body’s inflammatory response; taking an antihistamine can also provide relief of the symptoms. Although most stings can be treated at home, some will require more medical care, especially if the victim has the signs of anaphylaxis; rash and itching all over, swelling that spread from the site of the sting, and difficulty in breathing.

Tips: Avoid hanging out near bee hives or near a flower garden. Do not panic when a bee flies nearby; screaming and swatting at the insect are great ways to ensure a sting. Just stay calm and gently blow a bee that lands on the skin.

Ants

Most ant species cause minor discomfort to humans through biting, some species can cause severe symptoms. They often inject or spray chemicals, like formic acid, when they bite; this gives rise to symptoms such as itching, pain, swelling, blistering, etc. People with allergy to ant venom can suffer much more severe symptoms that can turn fatal; such people may experience difficulty in breathing, rapid pulse, nausea, vomiting, in addition to excessive swelling.

Some ant species such as fire ants leave a red welt with a whiter center, which can cause much pain and irritation. The pain emanating from a fire ant bite is usually burning, which is why they are called fire ants. The pain can be very strong and intense, but will rarely require any medical attention since the human body can break down the venom quite rapidly; the swelling caused by the bite, however, will usually last longer than the pain.

Treatment: Wash the affected area with soap and water, then put ice on the bitten area to relieve the swelling and pain. Do not scratch to avoid inflammation and irritation of the skin. There are natural treatments to ant bites, such as making a thick paste out of baking soda and water then applying it to the ant bite. You could also just pour lemon juice on the bite site; the acidity from the lemon counteracts and neutralizes the acid in the bite.

Tips: If you have ants inside your home, use lemon juice to get rid of them; clean your cabinets thoroughly with soap and water to get rid of any sticky residue. Use lemon scented cleaner if possible to wash the floors; make sure that the floor is always clean of pieces of food so that ants will not accumulate around it.

Mosquitoes

Found worldwide, they are most commonly seen between late spring and early fall; they are most active at dusk and dawn when it is hard for us to see them.

Mosquitoes prefer humid, warm climates and live and breed near moisture because their larvae can only live in water. Only female mosquitoes are capable of biting. Mosquitoes are carriers of many diseases, such as malaria and West Nile virus, which are transmitted to humans and animals.

After getting bitten by a mosquito, people usually get a bump on their skin, which is called a “wheal”. The bump is round, with pink or red edges, and the middle is white; if you are highly sensitive to mosquito bites, you may have a much larger area of itching. The itching, swelling, and burning from a mosquito bite are actually caused by the body’s autoimmune response to the saliva injected by the mosquito.

The incidence of a severe reaction to a mosquito bite, however, is extremely rare. Those who develop a severe illness will initially experience flu-like symptoms that will develop into severe headache, body aches, nausea, and rash.

Treatment: Wash the infected area with mild soap and water; they will provide temporary relief from itch and will also wash away any bacteria on the skin. Try to avoid excessive scratching, which can cause damage to the skin and sometimes bleeding. Anti-itching medications can also be applied.

Tips: Scientific research has shown that if you are frequently bitten by mosquitoes, it is because of the smell you give off; mosquitoes are attracted to particular odors that certain people have. If a person is rarely bitten, then his or her body gives off a smell that masks the scent that attracts mosquitoes; the body’s masking odors act like a natural repellent to mosquitoes.

Generally, during summer months, when insects are the most abundant, apply DEET (N,n-diethyl-m-toluamide)*, to exposed areas of skin any time you are outdoors. It is also preferable to wear protective clothing; pants, long sleeved shirts, hats, and shoes covering the skin whenever you are in places that may have insects. To enjoy your summer vacation, always put these tips in mind; they should protect you from harmful bites or stings for the most part.

Glossary

*DEET (N, n-diethyl-m-toluamide): is slightly yellow oil which is the most common active ingredient in insect repellents. It is intended to be applied to the skin or to clothing, and provides protection against different kinds of insect bites that can transmit disease.

*Published in the PSC Newsletter, Summer 2012 Issue.

References

insects.about.com
scienceline.org
wisegeek.com
netdoctor.co.uk
emaxhealth.com
medicalnewstoday.com
articlesbase.com
traveldoctor.co.uk
allergies.about.com
ehow.com

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