Thursday, July 2, 2020

Insect Bites & Stings? Here’s How to Treat Them


Insects are all around us at all times and they are present in astounding numbers. Incidentally, those numbers do not include spiders because they, in spite of the common misconception, are not insects. Scientists estimate that:

  • There are 900 thousand known species of insects in the world. This makes them the most diverse group of organisms with a number of species greater than any other group.
  • It is estimated that there are still as many as 30 million species of insects that have not yet been identified and named by scientists.
  • Entomologists have estimated that there are 10 quintillion (10,000,000,000,000,000,000) individual insects living among us at any given time.
  • In the United States alone, the estimated known species are 91,000 while the unknown are estimated at 73,000. The largest counts of known species are categorized into four major groups: Coleoptera (beetles) with 23,700, Diptera (flies) with 19,600, Homenoptera (ants, bees, wasps) with 17,500 and Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies) with 11,500.
  • There are more than 200 million insects for every human being on earth and an article in a recent New York Times publication claimed that there are 300 pounds of insects for every pound of humans on planet earth.
  • Their vast numbers, according to scientists, are largely due to their exceptionally long geological history, their capability of flight, their small sizes allow them to create habitats just about anywhere, their ability to hoard sperm for postponed fertilization and their immense fertility, as well as their ability to adapt to the ever-changing environment.

Insect Bites Allergic Reactions

It is said that insects do not attack unless they are provoked. However, due to the size disparity, the most innocent movement we make may be viewed as aggressive and threatening to an insect that is smaller than the tiny nail on our smallest finger. So, we get stung or bitten by defensive little beings. Many of the stings and bites go unnoticed but some result in a localized redness and swelling which may or may not be accompanied by itching and pain. Other bites or stings can be life-threatening to people who get an allergic reaction to the venom that was injected at the time of the insect’s attack.

Bees, wasps, hornets, yellow jackets and fire ants are insects whose attacks most frequently cause serious allergic reaction. As a matter of fact, death from bee stings is three to four times more prevalent than death from snake bites.

Certain insect bites or stings may lead to a wide variety of disease ranging from the insignificant to the very serious:

  • Mosquitoes do not usually cause serious problems unless they carry organisms such as those leading to Malaria, the West Nile Virus, Encephalitis, Dengue and Yellow Fever.
  • Lice can communicate Epidemic Relapsing Fever or Typhus.
  • Sand flies can transmit Leishmaniasis.
  • Tsetse flies pass on the Sleeping Sickness.
  • Deer flies can spread Tularemia.
  • Fleas can spread the Bubonic Plague.
  • Ticks spread Lyme Disease.
  • Chiggers and mites usually only leave local swelling and itching.

Symptoms of Insect Bites or Stings

  • Pain, swelling redness and itching of the affected area. An infection may set in if the area is scratched.
  • If the bite or the sting triggers an allergic reaction, the symptoms are more serious and may lead to anaphylaxis (anaphylactic shock) whose symptoms begin with hives, and then progress to wheezing, shortness of breath, loss of consciousness and even death within thirty minutes.
  • If the tongue is stung or bitten by an insect, the throat may swell and close off the airway passages.
  • Stings from large hornets or multiple bee stings have been known to cause muscles to breakdown and the kidneys to shut down.

Treating Insect Bites and Stings

All insect bites should be tended to as soon as possible by cleansing the affected area, removing the sting if it was left visibly, and applying ice to reduce the swelling as well as administering an antihistamine (topical plus oral) to relieve the itching. Any insect bites or stings which results in symptoms that are more severe than the mere localized itching and redness, should be immediately seen by a medical professional.

Preventive medicine is always preferable and insect bite or stings can be avoided by applying insect repellants, especially when participating in outdoor activities.

Medically trained in the UK. Writes on the subjects of injuries, healthcare and medicine. Contact me

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