When working or playing outdoors, it is important to keep your eyes peeled for mosquitoes, ticks, chiggers, spiders and winged stingers. Pesky summer insects bite to defend themselves, to get food or to reproduce. Young children, older people and those with compromised immune systems are most at risk for developing adverse reactions to bug bites.
Mosquitoes are one of the most common insects in the world. They usually can be spotted from late spring to early fall and they particularly like to visit at dawn and dusk. Mosquitoes thrive in warm climates and near water which can both help sustain their larvae (newly hatched insects). You can only get bit by a female mosquito because male mosquitoes do not bite.
These pests carry many diseases and some of these pests could even be carrying one of the most deadly viruses - West Nile virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recorded 45 deaths from West Nile in 2010.
If you are bit by a mosquito and then develop a fever, muscle weakness or other unusual symptoms, these can signal West Nile. Seek medical treatment immediately if you experience any of these symptoms after being bit as West Nile can cause death if it enters the brain.
Ticks are classified as parasites, an organism that claims nutrients from another host. They can transmit bacteria that cause serious medical issues and sometimes death. Ticks embed into the skin, ejecting their toxins as they feed on the host's blood. Some of the diseases that they carry are particular to certain geographic regions including Lyme disease which was named for the Connecticut town where cases were first identified in the mid-1970s and Rocky Mountain spotted fever which is common throughout North and South America.
"The deer tick that carries Lyme disease looks like a dark speck on the skin. The CDC recorded about 30,000 confirmed cases in 2009," says Mark Rockwell, PA-C at Jersey Shore Hospital. "People who live in the areas where deer ticks are most active should do routines skin checks, especially from late spring through summer. About 95 percent of the cases have been reported from just 12 states. The Lyme disease hot spots are Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Wisconsin, Maryland, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Delaware, Maine and Virginia."
Some symptoms associated with Lyme disease can include chills, fever, confusion, headache, muscle aches or a rash. If bitten by a tick, remove the tick within 36 hours to reduce the risk of contracting a disease.
Bees, wasps, hornets and yellowjackets
Walking too closely to a nest may result in painful summertime stings from bees, wasps, hornets or yellow jackets. As with mosquitoes, only the females attack. The males have no stingers.
A bee's stinger detaches and stays in the skin and the bee later dies. Wasps, hornets and yellow jackets on the other hand, keep their stingers after they attack and can repeatedly sting their victims. "At least 40 people die each year from allergic reaction to stings from bees or other insects," says Rockwell.
"Anaphylaxsis is not common, but when a reaction occurs it can be immediately life-threatening. About 1 percent of children and 3 percent of adults are at risk. People who are allergic should carry an epinephrine auto-injector with them. EpiPen is a commonly used brand."
For most people, bee stings result in pain that lasts anywhere from a few hours to a few days. But for those that are allergic, bee stings can cause death. Shortness of breath, swelling of the face and throat, dizziness and other such serious symptoms signal the need to get immediate medical help.
Spiders are a threat year-round, but warm temperatures and outdoor activities increase the likelihood of being bitten. Most spider bites are harmless, although they may itch or sting. Two female black widows and the brown recluse are poisonous. It's best to check with a doctor if you think you've been bitten by one of these, even if the reaction seems mild.
Armed with caution and knowledge, we can recognize the signs and symptoms of summertime bites and stings and know when quick medical attention is important.
Mark Rockwell is a physician assistant in the Jersey Shore Hospital Emergency Room as well as Urgent Care at McElhattan.