By Megan Sessums, Pharmacist Resident, BHMC-Little Rock
With summer right around the corner, it’s time to enjoy the great outdoors –– but be careful of those pesky insects.
Mosquitoes, bees, wasps, yellow jackets, ticks, spiders, chiggers, deer flies, and fire ants may all be lurking right in your backyard.
According to the Arkansas Department of Health, there were more than 1,000 confirmed and probable cases of tick-borne disease reported in 2014.
Although most insect bites and stings are of little consequence, it is important to distinguish between minor reactions that can be self-treated and more serious reactions that may require medical care.
Stings and bites from insects are common and often just result in redness and swelling of the injured area. For minor insect bites and stings, it is important to first clean the area with mild soap and water to remove any contaminated particles. An ice pack can then be applied to the area to reduce swelling.
Itching is the most common side effect of insect bites and can usually be treated with over-the-counter products. Hydrocortisone creams (Cortaid and Cortizone), topical and oral antihistamines (Benadryl), and calamine/zinc oxide (Calamine lotion) can all be used to treat itching from minor bug bites.
Your pharmacist is a great resource to help pick the best product for the bite. Generally, you should not use these products for more than seven days. Keep in mind, it is always best to refrain from scratching a bite or sting as this may cause breaks in the skin that can lead to infection. If the condition worsens or does not clear up within a couple of days, see your physician.
Treatment of serious insect bites may require emergent care and medications can range from epinephrine to steroids to antibiotics.
More than 2 million Americans are allergic to stinging insects. Anaphylaxis, or anaphylactic shock, is the most dangerous risk associated with insect exposures. Symptoms include hives, trouble breathing, swelling of the throat or mouth, rapid heartbeat, and feeling lightheaded.
Severe anaphylaxis can be fatal in as little as 10 minutes. Individuals who have previously experienced anaphylaxis or have a known allergy to insect venom should always carry an epinephrine auto-injector (EpiPen).
Sometimes a sting or bite can transmit harmful pathogens (viruses, bacteria, or parasites) to humans. For instance, malaria and the West Nile virus are spread by mosquitoes, although not commonly found in Arkansas.
Anaplasmosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis, and tularemia are all tick-borne diseases known to occur from bites received here in Arkansas. While Lyme disease is also an important tick-borne disease, ticks in Arkansas do not currently transmit Lyme disease.
Even though Arkansas ticks are responsible for more human disease than any other insect, not all ticks transmit disease.
If you experience sudden onset of fever, nausea, headache, muscle pain, or a rash (usually on the arms or ankles) after a tick bite, visit your physician. Luckily, antibiotics such as doxycycline are used to treat tick-borne diseases if caught early enough.
Just because these pesky insects are lurking outdoors doesn’t mean you have to stay inside during the warmer months. The best way to prevent insect bites and stings is to use insect repellents when going outdoors. Repellents can be picked up at your local pharmacy as well.
Avoiding offending insects and their habitats (beehives and ant hills, for example) is also recommended.
Always inspect yourself thoroughly after entering wooded areas, especially where ticks are known to exist.
Enjoy your summer in the Natural State!