Bee Stings and Bug Bites – Dangers and Diseases

It’s summer time – time for bumbling bees and biting bugs. Anywhere people enjoy nature, so do 6-legged critters (8-leggers as well). Backyards, ballfields, and boulevards are all subject to the invasion of biting or stinging insects (and arthropods).

For most people the injuries they inflict on humans are merely a nuisance. For others, they can be life-threatening.

Here are 5 dangers to consider if you suffer a sting or insect bite.

1. True allergy. The most immediate danger of a bee, wasp, or hornet sting is true allergy, an anaphylactic reaction. Many people confuse a large local reaction with an allergy. If you develop swelling, redness, discomfort, and possibly itching at the site of a sting BUT nowhere else, this is a local reaction. If you develop ANY symptoms anywhere other than the sting, this is likely an allergy. Hives or welts that occur on a part of the body away from the sting are one symptom. Difficulty breathing, rapid heart rate, nausea, faintness, or a general feeling of unwellness are serious symptoms as well. Seek immediate medical attention if you experience any of these symptoms. Call 911 if needed, especially if the onset is rapid or severe.

2. MRSA. Many patients identify small, red, slightly raised, slightly painful areas as spider bites without having seen a spider. Currently anything that looks like a spider bite is considered MRSA until proven otherwise. MRSA, or methicillin-resistant staph aureus, causes a bacterial infection which, left untreated, can cause serious illness, even death. If you think you’ve been bitten by a spider, call your doctor. These lesions are not caused by spider bites, they just look like what people think are spider bites.

3. Lyme disease. If you’ve been bitten by a tick, especially in the eastern third of the United States, keep Lyme disease in mind. This infection is caused by Borrelia burgdorferi, a bacteria carried by deer ticks that may be injected into human skin at the time of a bite. The small bite wound may develop into a larger lesion that looks like a bull’s eye. Any symptoms of illness that occur after a tick bite should be evaluated by your physician. Lyme disease requires antibiotics to eliminate the infection. Left untreated, it can cause arthritis, heart irregularities, nerve damage, and occasionally memory disturbances.

4. Local infection. Any open wound can become infected by germs that live on the skin, especially staph or strep. If you have suffered an insect bite or sting that seems to be getting worse with time, consult your physician. Symptoms of infection include an enlarging lesion, increasing redness or heat in the wound, worsening discomfort, and occasionally pus. Your doctor may want to get a culture from the wound to identify the infection, or may simply offer antibiotics.

5. West Nile Virus. In the United States mosquito bites usually cause only an itchy welt, nothing more. However, West Nile Virus has been identified in each of the lower 48 states. Even then, most people who contract this viral infection demonstrate minimal (or no) symptoms. About 20% of people with the infection may experience a variety of symptoms that they may or may not attribute to West Nile Fever: rashes, headaches, fever, nausea or diarrhea, decreased appetite, muscle aches, swollen glands. Only 1% develop serious infection in the brain, including encephalitis or meningitis. Symptoms of neurologic infection may include fever, severe headache, disorientation, confusion, stroke-like symptoms, paralysis, stiff neck, or seizures. Seek medical attention if any of these symptoms occur, especially after being bitten by a mosquito.

Fortunately, for the most part insects and humans coexist peaceably in the same environment. Don’t let the above worry you into staying inside. Just keep in mind that a critter much smaller than yourself can do significant damage through a bite or a sting, though often at the price of its own demise.

Copyright 2010 Cynthia J. Koelker, MD

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