Pains of Summer Fun

The effects of a bug bite can range from minor itching to serious illness. Following are some of the most common pests and how to treat problems that may develop.

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Bees and Wasps

A bee or wasp sting can be life-threatening for those who are allergic. If you know you are, always carry an epinephrine injection device (or epi pen).

“A severe allergic reaction would include swelling of the face, lips and/or wheezing or difficulty breathing. Call 911 if this occurs,” says Dr. Kristen Rice with the Center for Dermatology in Tulsa.

If you’re not allergic, Rice says treating the inflammation and itching caused by the bite is most important until the reaction subsides.

“Topical steroid medication, which includes both over-the-counter and prescription options, can help,” she says. “Topical pain relievers can help, too. One that I personally like is called Bite MD as it is a stick applicator that is easy to use. Applying ice to the affected area and taking antihistamines can reduce swelling and itching.”

Spiders

Poisonous spiders, such as the brown recluse and black widow, concern most people. However, Rice says spider bites rarely cause life-threatening problems.

“Brown recluse bites can cause tissue necrosis at the site of the bite, which, if spreading, may need surgical debridement – removal of the dead tissue,” she says. “Signs of tissue necrosis include ulceration and a gray/purple discoloration around the site. Seek medical care if this occurs.”

For minor bites, home treatments include washing with mild soap and cool water, applying ice to the site, elevating the site above heart level, and taking antihistamines to reduce swelling and ibuprofen or acetaminophen for pain.

“There is no specific treatment for brown recluse bites, other than caring for the skin at the site, and in rare situations where someone actually has systemic symptoms, supportive care to include balancing kidney function, electrolytes, blood pressure and blood counts,” Rice says.

Systemic symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, muscle pain or cramping, dizziness or loss of consciousness. If these occur, emergency treatment is needed.

“For black widow bites, there is an antivenin,” Rice says. “However, it is not available – or [is] difficult to obtain – at many hospitals. Local symptoms may last for several days but are rarely life-threatening.”

Ticks

A tick bite should be taken seriously because ticks can carry a variety of diseases. Dr. George Monks, with Tulsa Dermatology Clinic, says tick-borne illnesses can be difficult to recognize because symptoms can mimic other illnesses like depression, fatigue, fibromyalgia or arthritis.

“I’ve diagnosed and cared for patients with tick-borne illness who have suffered greatly from their disease,” he says. “Many of us have heard of Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain spotted fever, but there are over 20 different disease-causing organisms that ticks can infect you with. Many of these illnesses have only recently been discovered.”

Monks became interested in tick-borne illnesses through his practice and having known a game ranger who died from Lyme disease. He and his wife, Rachel, created Testmytick.com, a tick-testing resource through a partnership with the Laboratory of Medical Zoology at the University of Massachusetts.

“It’s important to note that even if a tick does carry disease, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you will be infected with it,” he says. “This test is not a substitute for going to see your health-care provider, especially if you think you may have a tick-borne illness.”

Mosquitoes, Chiggers and Oak Leaf Mites

Mosquito bites are typically more annoying than dangerous, but news about the Zika virus has caused alarm.

“Avoidance of mosquito bites is the absolute best way to prevent spread of diseases they may carry,” Rice says.

Repellents with DEET are considered most effective against mosquitoes and chiggers, but many non-DEET options are available.

“One study found that having a fan blowing away from the area is the most helpful thing to repel mosquitoes,” she says. “And don’t forget that protective clothing and avoiding wearing strong fragrances are extremely helpful as well.”

Monks first diagnosed a patient with a bite from an oak leaf mite in 2015. He says this insect bite was only first described in the United States in 2004 during an outbreak in Kansas. To help treat bites like this, he suggests over-the-counter topical hydrocortisone cream or oral antihistamines.

“The key is trying not to scratch them as that increases the risk of a secondary infection,” he says.

Tick Test Offers Peace of Mind

For less than $50, a Testmytick.com Tick Collection Kit can screen a tick that has bitten you for seven different disease-causing organisms with a high degree of accuracy through DNA testing, says Dr. George Monks, the company’s co-founder.

For $100, Testmytick.com can screen for 12 to 14 diseases and email you a picture of your tick, its species identification and what diseases it carries within three business days of receipt. Traditional blood tests screening for tick-borne illnesses usually take two weeks for results.

“Our testing can give you peace of mind and your health-care provider valuable information about your overall risk of exposure to tick-borne disease before symptoms develop,” Monks says.

The kits, assembled at A New Leaf in Broken Arrow, are sold on Amazon or at NextGenRx in Broken Arrow.

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