With spring upon us and summer fast approaching, it is important to be reminded of the critters we may encounter while outside enjoying the long sunny days. During spring and summer, bees and other flying insects are busy collecting food and a wet winter means tall grass for snakes to hunt and hide in. More than ever it is important to be aware of your surroundings and practice some preventative measures to help protect you and your family from the increased risk of bites and stings.
More than 300 cases of rattlesnake bites are reported annually in California and the height of bite season is April-October. Typically you will hear the characteristic rattling sound if you are in danger of coming too close to a rattlesnake; however that is not always the case and even baby rattlesnakes possess dangerous venom as soon as they hatch. Life-threatening symptoms may occur within minutes after the bite. Rattlesnake bites can cause:
- Extreme pain
- Swelling at the location of the bite
- Excessive bleeding
- Swelling in the mouth and throat, making it difficult to breathe
- Collapse and shock
If you are bitten by a rattlesnake call 911 immediately, especially if the area changes color or begins to swell. Take these steps while waiting for medical help:
- Remain calm and move beyond the snake’s striking distance
- Remove jewelry and tight clothing before you start to swell
- Position yourself, if possible, so that the bite is at or below the level of your heart
- Clean the wound, but don’t flush it with water
- Cover the wound with a clean, dry dressing
- If you are unsure about what kind of snake bit you, try to remember its color and head shape so that you can describe it, which will help in your treatment
- Use a tourniquet
- Apply ice
- Cut the wound or attempt to remove the venom
- Drink caffeine or alcohol
Bee stings can cause a number of reactions, some are mild and others can be life-threatening. A typical reaction is minor and includes a sharp burning pain at the sting site, a red welt, and some sweating, which typically goes away within a few hours. Some people may have redness and swelling that can last up to 10 days. Other people, with severe allergic reactions, may have trouble breathing, experience nausea and vomiting, or even pass out.
You should take preventative measures to decrease your chance of being stung by a bee.
Effective prevention tips include the following:
- Avoid and do not disturb, hives and nests
- When outdoors, avoid fragranced body products, bright colors, and sugary drinks
- Wear long sleeves and long pants outdoors
- Do not walk barefoot outdoors
- Do not swat at swarming bees or wasps
- Exercise caution around fruit trees and blooming flowers
- Keep garbage away from outdoor activity areas
If you are stung, and you are having what seems like an allergic reaction to a bee sting that suggests anaphylaxis, such as swelling of the lips, tongue or throat, shortness of breath or trouble breathing, call 911 right away. If your symptoms are milder, first remove the stinger if there is one. Stingers can be removed by scraping it with something like a credit card or your fingernail. Ice the sting for relief and take an antihistamine to reduce swelling.
Most spiders aren’t poisonous, but some can be extremely dangerous, such as the black widow spider. Black widow spiders are common in our area and tend to make their homes in dry, dark places such as garages, old cars, and wood sheds to name a few. The female black widow is approximately 1.5 inches while the male is only half that size. According to National Geographic, black widows are considered the most venomous spider in North America. Their venom is reported to be 15 times stronger than a rattlesnake’s, however, their bite is rarely fatal and only the bite of the females can be regarded as a threat to human life. Even if bitten by a female, only those individuals who are very young, very old, or very sick are in danger of a fatal outcome. A black widow bite feels like a “pin prick” to most people. The pain begins within a few minutes, then spreads rapidly to other parts of the body. Effects of the venom may include nausea, profuse sweating, severe pain in the abdomen and back, muscle aches, hypertension, and paralysis of the diaphragm, which can cause difficulty breathing. The pain of the bite may last for 8-12 hours while the other effects of the venom can linger for several days. If bitten by a black widow you should seek treatment as soon as possible. Black widow anti-venom is available to help minimize damage.
Generally, mosquito activity will begin when the temperature reaches and maintains at least 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Mosquitoes thrive in hot weathe. a
As temperatures rise, the volume of mosquitos increases accordingly. Mosquito season reaches its peak during the hot summer months.
Mosquito bites will form bumps almost immediately after you’ve been bitten. They are usually round and bumpy. Occasionally, you can see a small dot at the center. Eventually, the bump becomes red and hard. They tend to be itchy, but reactions are commonly mild and they often go away after just a few days. Although most mosquito bites are harmless, they can be carriers for diseases such as West Nile Virus, St Louis Encephalitis, Yellow Fever and Malaria. Symptoms of these diseases include:
- Body aches
If you experience any flu-like symptoms after a mosquito bite, see your doctor immediately.
You can avoid large numbers of mosquitoes by eliminating stagnant water on your property. Remove objects that collect water, clean clogged gutters, and fill in low-lying areas.
Tick exposure can occur year-round, but ticks are most active during warmer months such as April-September. Ticks live in grassy, brushy, or wooded areas, or even on animals. Activities such as walking outside, camping, gardening, or hunting can bring you in close contact with ticks. There are 47 species of ticks in California but only eight species that bite humans. Of the eight common human biting species in California, five of them are “hard” ticks. These include Western Blacklegged, Pacific Coast, American Dog, Brown Dog and the Wood tick. The picture below encompasses the top four human biting hard ticks in our state and the disease(s) they are a vector for.
- Most species of hard ticks are found on wild grasses and low plants.
- Ticks do not fall from trees, jump or fly.
- Adult ticks quest by waiting at the ends of grass or other foliage for a host to brush by so they may attach.
- Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne disease in the U.S.
- In California, Ixodes pacificus (Western Blacklegged) is the only tick that transmits Lyme disease.
The remaining three species of California human biting ticks are all “soft” ticks. Soft ticks are found primarily in rodent nests and in rustic dwellings. Most people bitten by a soft tick don’t feel it at all.
Soft ticks can often times attach, feed, and drop off without detection. Soft ticks are a vector for tick-borne relapsing fever.
It is smart to conduct a full body check upon return from potentially tick-infested areas. Check these parts of your body:
- Under the arms
- In and around the ears
- Inside belly button
- Back of the knees
- In and around hair
- Between the legs
- Around the waist
If you do find that you have a tick and it has already burrowed under the skin, you will want to remove it as soon as possible.
- Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.
- Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers. If you are able to remove the mouth easily with clean tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal.
- After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.
- Never crush a tick with your fingers. Dispose of a live tick by putting it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet.
Tick-borne diseases can result in mild symptoms treatable at home, to severe infections requiring hospitalization. Call your health care provider immediately if you have been bitten by a tick and develop any of the symptoms below within a few weeks:
- Aches and Pains
- Headache, fatigue and muscle aches