Coming into contact with stinging or biting insects, especially in the heat or rainy season, is very common and severity of results can range from totally benign to causing death.
To prevent bites and stings, especially in endemic areas, preventative steps include:
- Gloves while gardening
- Long-sleeved, light-colored clothes and long pants (when hiking or gardening)
- Bug repellents with DEET and picaridin (available without prescription)
While certain conditions are more common in some places than others, five of the more offending bugs and symptoms are described below.
Risk: Lyme disease, Tularemia
Symptoms: Rash, headache, fatigue and fever
Both the black-legged and deer tick can transmit the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi when attached for 1-2 days, which causes Lyme disease. Adult ticks can be seen and removed before infection, but the immature ticks or nymphs are so small, (less than 2mm) that they go undetected.
The Lone Star tick, found mainly in the southern and midcentral part of the United States, poses a risk for tularemia, a gravely serious disease. In addition to rash, headache, fatigue and fever, one can suffer from heart, kidney and lung failure leading to seizures, coma and death.
In both cases, the ticks need to be removed with tweezers. Treatment is by antibiotic (Doxycycline) for people over 8-years-old and Amoxicillin for children under 8 and for pregnant women. If the condition is ignored and not treated, infection can affect the heart, joints and nervous system.
Risk: Tungiasis. In serious cases, gangrene, septicemia and lymphangitis.
Symptoms: Itchy red rash, swelling and tenderness
Fleas and chiggers can be a real bother in the summer. While most of the symptoms are temporary, if the bugs linger they can progress to more serious diseases such as gangrene, septicemia and lymphangitis.
Treatment consists of surgical flea removal with a curette and antibiotic cream to prevent ensuing infections.
3. Fire Ants
Risk: Allergic reaction
Symptoms: Pustules in the center of a swollen red rash
Blisters and pustules can form after fire ant stings from allergic reactions to the venom. Antibodies (IgE) cause development of wheals becoming swollen itchy and indurated. While this is usually limited to discomfort for 3 days, anaphylaxis can occur.
Treatment involves antihistamines and cool compresses. Steroids may be necessary if symptoms are moderate to severe.
4. Mites or chiggers
Symptoms: Raised red rash with fluid-filled center, severe itching, wheals
Above symptoms occur 36 hours after exposure to the mite bites. Treatment consists of nonprescription topical steroids and antihistamines. In the Orient and South Pacific, these mites are associated with scrub typhus, causing cough, gastrointestinal problems, and muscle pain in addition to the fever and headache.
Risk: Dengue fever, West Nile virus, malaria and encephalitis
Symptoms: Small, itchy red bumps
Mosquitoes are everywhere in the summer and bites are extremely common. Usually the bites are harmless despite the annoying itch. However, they can cause disease transmission such as Dengue fever, West Nile virus, malaria and encephalitis. Fortunately they are rare in the United States, but if you have travelled abroad, any symptoms should be followed up with immediate medical attention from a physician specializing in infectious diseases or tropical medicine.
Don’t just “brush off” bug bites as a rite of summer. Taking precautions and being forewarned will enable you to enjoy all your outdoor activities safely. If you are concerned about a bite, seek medical attention before small symptoms balloon into more serious conditions.