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Special Health Topics

Take the Bite & Sting Out of Summer

As summer begins, Valley View Hospital is reminding residents that it is time to become reacquainted with some of our smaller wildlife friends, the insects. Unfortunately, our contact with these small critters usually comes in the form of a bite or sting. Knowing how to treat an insect insult immediately and how to watch for signs of a more serious reaction can help your family through the summer more comfortably.

Mosquitoes, Fleas, Flies, Ants

Typical reactions to stings from mosquitoes, fleas, flies and ants are temporary and local. A small bump or swelling usually occurs, with itching or redness. All symptoms usually disappear within a few days. To relieve the itch or sting, apply a paste of baking soda or ice. An application of aluminum salts (found in underarm deodorants), hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion can also help to relieve itching.

It is important to keep in mind that the swelling that follows an insect bite or sting is greater in children than in adults. A simple mosquito bite can cause a small child's eye to be swollen closed.

West Nile Virus has emerged in recent years in temperate regions of Europe and North America, presenting a threat to public, equine, and animal health.  The most serious manifestation of West Nile virus infection is fatal encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) in humans and horses, as well as mortality in certain domestic and wild birds.

The first appearance of West Nile virus in North America occurred in 1999, with encephalitis reported in humans and horses, and the subsequent spread in the United States.  As of May 2006, West Nile virus has been documented in the contiguous United States and the District of Columbia.

Bees, Wasps, Hornets

You can lessen the chances of an insect sting by taking certain precautionary measures. Yellow jackets nest in the ground and in walls. Hornets and wasps will nest in bushes, trees and under the eaves of buildings. Use extreme caution when working or playing in these areas and never walk barefoot in the lawn. Avoid insect attractants such as fragrances (perfumes, hair sprays, lotions), open garbage cans and exposed food at picnics.

If you are stung and the stinger remains in the skin, remove it by gently scraping across the skin; don't pinch or squeeze the sting. Treat the symptoms and discomfort with one of the above options.

Are You Allergic?

Considering how many people are stung by bees, hornets and wasps, serious allergic reaction is quite uncommon. Only about one in 10 persons is allergic to these stings. Recognizing the difference between an allergic reaction and a local reaction (even a large local reaction) can help prevent unnecessary worry.

The severity of an insect sting reaction varies from person to person. A normal reaction will involve pain, swelling and redness confined to the sting site. A large local reaction will result in swelling in the immediate vicinity the sting site. For example, a person stung on the forearm may have the entire arm swell to twice its normal size. Although alarming in appearance, this condition may be considered a normal reaction, because it is confined to the arm.

The most serious reaction to an insect sting is an allergic one. This condition requires immediate medical attention. Be alert for for these symptoms, which could indicate a life-threatening reaction:

  • A pale or sweaty appearance following the bite or sting.
  • Difficulty breathing or tightness in the chest.
  • Swelling around eyes, lips, tongue or throat, sometimes indicated by a hoarse voice.
  • Hives, itching or swelling in areas other than the site of the sting.
  • Numbness.
  • Dizziness.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Unconsciousness.

This type of reaction can occur within minutes after the sting and may be life-threatening or even fatal.

If any of these symptoms develop, call 911.
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