Summertime Insect Bites Should Be Carefully Monitored  

Insect bites cause more deaths from poisoning than bites from snakes

VANDALIA, Ohio (May 11, 2015) – Those who think bites caused by pesky insects just produce an annoying bump or excessive itch should think twice. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), insect bites cause more deaths from poisoning than bites from snakes.

Mosquitoes, ants, flies and ticks are common insect bites that have the potential of infecting a person with a viral or bacterial infection. Illnesses that are contracted from living organisms like insects are known as vector-borne diseases and make up 11 percent of the world’s infectious diseases, the World Health Organization (WHO) said. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the most widely known vector-borne diseases in the U.S. are West Nile virus, Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. 

While most Ohioans may not contract such diseases, the ability to identify the source of an insect bite and serious symptoms that may result are important, said Chris Lauricella, DO, a family physician with Family Medicine of Vandalia.

“Bug bites usually don’t result in a serious medical issue, but theoretically everyone is at risk of an infection from any bite,” Dr. Lauricella said. “Lyme disease and the West Nile virus are both examples of diseases that can be passed along by insects. The rule of thumb is if someone has an insect bite – especially if it occurred above their shoulder blades – and they then experience a headache, fever and chills, they need to be seen right away by a physician.”

The risk for rare or new vector-borne diseases has increased as global travel has become more common, the CDC said. The West Nile virus, for example, which was unknown in the U.S. before 1999, infected more than 5,600 Americans in 2012. For some individuals, an insect bite can be fatal even if the bug itself is not carrying a disease. A severe, life-threatening reaction to insect bites is called anaphylactic shock, which produces rapid symptoms including chest pain, face or mouth swelling, difficulty breathing and swallowing.

“A person can be stung 20 times and experience a non-severe allergic reaction, and that 21st time they are stung they could have a severe allergic reaction,” Dr. Lauricella said. “In that situation, the reaction doesn’t come in a matter of days, but minutes.”

In most cases, insect bites can be treated at home. The NIH outlines several steps that can be taken to care for insect bites and stings. The first step for treatment is to remove the stinger by scraping the back of a credit card or other straight-edge object across the stinger. Do not use tweezers as this may squeeze the venom sac and increase the amount of venom released. 

Once the stinger is removed, wash the site with soap and water, place ice on the sting or bite for 10 minutes on and off. If necessary, apply an antihistamine cream to reduce itching. Perhaps most importantly, the site should be monitored over the next couple of days for signs of infection.

An insect bite that becomes infected may exhibit several symptoms. Pus may form inside or outside the site. The individual may notice that their glands are swollen. They may develop a fever and flu-like symptoms. And the site may become redder or more painful. It’s important to have the site evaluated by a doctor if any of these symptoms develop, Dr. Lauricella said.

The CDC said individuals can play a role in preventing insect bites by following these steps:

Bug Repellent – Use a repellent that contains at least 20 percent DEET for protection that lasts several hours against mosquitos and ticks. Dr. Lauricella said repellents are most effective and safe when sprayed on an individual’s shoes and lower legs. This provides a protection without exposing an individual’s mouth and eyes to the repellent, he said.

Proper Attire – Consider wearing permethrin-treated clothing or gear such as boots and hats. Long-sleeved shirts and long pants help provide an extra layer of protection to the skin. Remember to tuck in shirts and wear socks. It is also recommended that individuals shower once they come indoors from an area with possible tick exposure.

Remain Indoors – Sleep in air-conditioned rooms with windows shut and restrict outdoor play to the daytime when the risk for mosquito contact is at a minimum.

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