Summer Stings

As summer heats up, your chances of getting bothered, bitten or stung by tiny pests increase.

As summer heats up, your chances of getting bothered, bitten or stung by tiny pests increase. Bites are mostly annoying, but they can cause infection or allergic reactions, or pass along disease.

Your best defense is prevention. Whether you’re dodging wasps at a dock or swatting mosquitoes at a family picnic, watch out for unfriendly insects. Know how to treat bites and stings – and avoid scratching, which can lead to an infection. Instead, wash bites with soap and water and use an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream.

Mosquitoes. Most mosquitoes are out from dusk to dawn, especially if it’s hot or humid. Wear light clothing that covers most of the body. Avoid fragrances in soaps, shampoos and lotions. Use insect repellent with the ingredient DEET. The simplest anti-itch compound is a paste of baking soda and water.

Bees. Symptoms from bee and wasp stings usually subside after 20 to 30 minutes. Only honeybees leave a stinger; if one is present, carefully remove it to avoid infection. Severe allergies to bee stings can be deadly, so see a doctor if you become short of breath, develop a severe throbbing headache, suffer hives or widespread itching, or become lightheaded.

Fleas. Annoying to people, they’re more of an itchy nuisance for ride-along pets. If you spot them, vacuum and fog your cab and give your pet a flea treatment. Treat bites with an anti-itch cream.

Ticks. Generally, ticks live in wooded or grassy areas. They usually attach to socks and crawl to a protected site, such as the armpits, the groin or the back of the scalp at the neckline. Ticks can carry diseases, including Lyme disease, though the odds of contracting them are small. If you find a tick, use tweezers to pull it gently until it pops free. Make sure you get the head, because leaving it attached will cause an infection.

Chiggers. Most “red bug” bites are on ankles, knees, armpits, crotches and waistlines under the belt. Use hydrocortisone cream.

Spiders. A black widow bite quickly becomes red, and tingling spreads an inch or two. It’s rarely fatal to a grown adult, but the resulting shortness of breath, chest pain and muscle pain often lead to hospital care. A brown recluse bite, on the other hand, is almost never felt immediately. It starts as a blister and finally leaves an ulcerated hole. Not much can be done except bandaging and watching for infection. Other spiders can inflict nasty bites, but most aren’t dangerous.

This year, health officials expect an increase in U.S. cases of West Nile virus, one of several types of encephalitis transmitted by mosquitoes. Fewer than 3,000 human cases were reported in 2004, but a third of those were severe. According to the Centers for Disease Control, symptoms appear in about 80 percent of people bitten by an infected mosquito.

Mild symptoms: About 20 percent of people who become infected will show: fever, headache, body aches, nausea, vomiting and sometimes a rash.

Serious symptoms: About 150 people yearly show: high fever, headache, neck stiffness, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis.

For updated maps of West Nile outbreaks, go to this site.