Treating common insect bites

Posted on December 10th, 2013

Here’s how to identify, treat and avoid some of the most common insect bites and stings. By Lynette Botha

Identifying an insect bite

  • Insect bites and stings usually cause little harm unless there’s a severe allergic reaction, multiple stings or stings to the head and neck area – these require immediate medical help.
  • Immediate symptoms include stinging or itching, redness and swelling confined to one (or multiple) area – depending on the number of bites or stings.
  • Symptoms can last up to three days with children.

Most common insect bites

  • The most common insect bites are flea and bedbug bites. They are harmless, but can cause irritation.
  • Mosquito bites itch, but they’re mostly harmless. Some mosquitos can spread malaria, but only in certain areas. In South Africa, malaria has been restricted to three provinces – in north-eastern KwaZulu-Natal, parts of Mpumalanga and Limpopo.
  • Bee and wasp stings are also common in summer.
  • Tick, scorpion and spider bites occur less frequently and mostly in summer.

When to call the doctor

  • When a severe allergic reaction develops.
  • If your child or anyone in your immediate family has a history of a severe reaction to the particular insect’s bite. Don’t wait for a reaction to occur if you know this already.
  • If your child’s face, neck or throat is stung. This may cause rapid swelling, which could obstruct the airway and breathing.
  • Your child has multiple stings or bites.
  • If you can’t identify the type of spider that’s bitten your child.
Danger signs

Immediately seek medical advice if any of these symptoms occur:

  • Swelling in other parts of the body (including the face and tongue)
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Cramps
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Nausea.

Types of bites and stings

Tick bites

  • Tick bites are most common in summer. They embed their heads in the skin to feed on blood.
  • They seldom cause serious problems, but some ticks may transmit organisms that could lead to tick bite fever.
  • If you have pets, live on – close to – a mountain or bushy area and if your kids spend a lot of time in nature, check their whole body for ticks.
  • If you find a tick, remove it immediately. Grip it with fine tipped tweezers as close to the skin as possible and pull it out in a straight line; don’t jerk or twist. Make sure the head is also removed. If the head remains behind, it could cause a small ulcer, in which case you should see a doctor.
  • After you removed the tick, get your child into a bath or shower immediately to wash the bite site and in case there are any more ticks.
  • Rub antiseptic cream onto the bite.

Spider bites

  • Be wary of the following spiders:
  • Brown and black widow spiders
  • Six-eyed crab spider
  • Violin spider
  • Sac spider
  • Button spider.

Signs and symptoms of spider bites

  • Bites from these particular spiders tend to produce a reddened ‘wheel’ and an ulcer. In some cases, there will be intense pain around the bite.
  • Other symptoms include sweating, fever, muscle cramps and difficulty breathing.

Scorpion stings
All scorpion stings should be treated as dangerous, as all scorpions in South Africa are venomous. However, only the stings from the Buthidae family, which have thick tails and thin pinchers, can be fatal. If your child gets stung, take him to a doctor or call a medical professional.

Symptoms of a scorpion sting include:

  • Intense, burning pain, numbness and tingling across the body
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Stomach pain
  • Blurred vision
  • Slurred speech
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • Shock.

Bee stings

  • Remove a bee stinger by gently scraping the skin with the blunt edge of a knife, a similar object like a credit card, or your fingernail.
  • Don’t grasp the stinger or rub the skin.
  • Wash the area immediately after with soapy water, dry and apply antiseptic cream.
  • If your child’s allergic to bees, seek medical help immediately.

Six must-know first aid tips:

  • Call emergency services immediately for any scorpion sting or bite from a dangerous spider.
  • Keep the affected limb lower than the heart.
  • If breathing stops, perform CPR.
  • Treat for shock if necessary.
  • Clean the wound and apply an ice pack for swelling and to prevent the venom from spreading.
  • Give paracetamol for pain.

Preventing bites and stings

  • In summer, use a mosquito net or sleep with a fan on.
  • Wear long-sleeved thin tops and long trousers after sunset.
  • Warn kids not to stick their fingers into plants or flowers – wasps or bees are often here.
  • Wash your pets regularly and apply flea and tick dips.
  • Steer clear of flying insects (including nests) and don’t swat them. Rather move away from them.
  • If you’re in an insect prone area, avoid using overly scented products on your children, as this attracts them.
  • Make sure your kids wear shoes when they go outside where possible.
  • Keep food, snacks and drinks covered.
  • Carry treatment medication with you at all times if your children have reactions to certain insect bites or stings.