Bug Bites: Prevention is key, but when they happen, knowing how to treat them can be vital

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The handle grip of a garbage can is one of many hiding places for spiders.

The desert is home to plenty of sharp and painful hazards. Many desert critters come with an assortment of fangs and stingers and are ready to deliver a miserable experience to the unsuspecting homeowner, hiker or curious child.

Average temperatures are approaching 24/7 comfort levels, meaning more people are outside, while our insect and reptile counterparts are looking for shade.

Bites and stings are practically unavoidable, but there are ways to treat and prevent them.

Bites

Reptiles, arachnids and a few insects have fangs, and it usually hurts when they use them.

Rattlesnakes can deliver a serious bite, and they have an ample food supply after the wet winter. It doesn’t take much for a hiker or dog walker to startle an unsuspecting snake. They don’t always rattle before striking and if they do, be prepared for pain, swelling and a hospital visit.

The bites are rarely fatal, but can be extremely painful, especially when swelling or allergic reactions to the venom kick in. Kingman Regional Medical Center stocks antivenin, but it’s not cheap and a full dose could be up to 18 vials.

Situational awareness is a must while walking or hiking. Crossing paths with a rattlesnake is more likely at cooler times near sunrise and sunset when snakes are out looking for food. Their camouflage helps them blend in well on trails and sidewalks.

Black widow spiders also inhabit the desert. They set up shop in, on, around and under homely fixtures such as garden hose spools, dog houses and lawn chairs.

Kingman Regional Medical Center Urgent Care Clinic treats bites and calms fears of all kinds.

“We can’t identify what kind of bug a person was bitten by,” said clinic manager Kathy Brodsky. “We can treat them with antibiotics or steroids if the need it.”

“The biggest patient misconception is that they were bitten by a brown recluse spider and they’re going to die,” she said. “The brown recluse is not native, so it’s rare they’ve been bitten by one.”

Spiders are adept at hiding in places fingers and toes frequently travel. Watch your digits when lifting a garbage can lid. The arachnids will hide under the handles. They’ll even find a way into a mailbox, something we often jab our hand into without looking. At nighttime, a shoeless skirmish across the porch might aggravate a spider headed toward new webbing real estate.

Bites from the females, the ones with the red hourglass on their abdomen, can be extremely painful and even dangerous to young children and the elderly. Bites rarely cause major symptoms in healthy adults.

Black widow venom affects the nervous system, and if the bitten person has more than minor pain or has whole-body symptoms, care should be sought at the nearest hospital’s emergency department, according to www.emedicinehealth.com.

Gloves and shoes should be worn at all times when doing yardwork, an activity that often uncovers black widow hiding spots.

“Be cautious about where you’re working,” Brodsky said. “It’s just common sense.”

Harvester, carpenter and fire ants are difficult to completely eliminate and are really just doing nature’s work of tilling the earth. Unless they’re massed near a porch and marching toward a door, there’s no reason to go on a killing spree with the readily available over-the-counter poisons.

One or two bites is more a matter of “suck it up and ice it down” type remedy, but should one run afoul of a colony – especially fire ants – ice, antihistamines and topical creams and lotions will soothe the pain depending on the reaction.

If an allergic reaction occurs, an EpiPen injection or ER visit may be necessary.

Stings

Scorpions, bees and wasps sting, not bite.

Next to blistering heat, scorpions are the next most popular image synonymous with Arizona. Their stings have been compared to an extremely painful thumbtack prick to getting hit in the hand with a hammer.

If you do get stung, wash the site with soap and water.

Stings are painful but rarely life-threatening, according to the Mayo Clinic. Kids and the elderly are most at risk of serious complications. Most stings don’t need medical treatment, but severe symptoms may require a hospital visit. You may be given sedatives for muscle spasms and intravenous drugs to treat high blood pressure, agitation and pain.

As with spiders, scorpions tend to find heavily human-populated places to hide. Different species grow anywhere from one to four inches and can easily slip under doors, into shoes or even in shady nooks of toys littering the yard.

Scorpions aren’t going away anytime soon, but their presence can curbed.

“You’re still going to get them,” said Danny Asplin, owner of Pesty Pest Control. “It’s just a matter of controlling the bug population.”

Crickets and cockroaches are abundant foods for scorpions, and keeping their population at bay with poisons, traps and basic housecleaning will help make your scorpion problem someone else’s.

Wasps and bees are out doing their pollination thing and build their hives and nests in trees, roof vents, overhangs and light fixtures.

“If you see them, there could be a nest nearby,” Asplin said. “They can be aggressive. Don’t irritate them and you’ll be fine.”

Should they get you, the stings should be cleaned out with soap and water. Mild symptoms can be treated with antihistamines. An allergic reaction merits an immediate emergency room visit.

Asplin has already had a lot of bee calls.

“It’s almost like we get a call a day for bees,” Asplin said. “They say there’s a shortage of bees, but the data I’ve seen shows otherwise.”

Sealing cracks and covering roof vents or ventilation pipes will force the flying insects elsewhere.

If you discover a nest or hive, Asplin recommends calling a professional. If you go it alone, always wear protective gear.

“Use bleach or Simple Green on the site once a nest is removed,” Asplin said. “(Bees and wasps) leave pheromones that could attract others to a future nesting site.”

For more information on bites and stings, especially if you’ve been bitten or stung, contact the Arizona Poison Control Center at 1-800-362-0101.