The bane of every summer — stings and bites


A few weeks ago my wife called from upstairs. There was an unusual urgency in her voice. When I found her, I understood. She had been stung by a bald-faced hornet. It got her right by her eye, and her face swelled up immediately.

Within minutes, hives covered much of her body. Linda has been stung before, but she never had such a reaction. So it was off to the emergency room. Better to be safe than sorry.

After about seven hours of treatment, the symptoms subsided, and we returned home — with a prescription for an EpiPen. (An EpiPen contains a single dose of epinephrine in the event of a life-threatening allergic reaction or anaphylaxis.)


It’s that time of year. Honey bees, wasps, and hornets are active, and soon yellow jackets will be protecting underground nests from marauding lawn movers. Sooner or later, everyone gets stung or bitten.

The best treatment is prevention. If there’s a hornet nest or bee swarm near a porch or sidewalk, call a bee keeper or pest control specialist to remove the problem. Most bee keepers will happily remove a swarm for free, and money spent removing a hornet nest sure beats a visit to the emergency room.

Sometimes, however, stings just happen, so it’s best to be prepared. I’ve been stung while driving with my arm resting on the open car window. The American Red Cross reports that most insect stings are not serious and can be easily treated. But severe allergic reactions can be deadly.

Begin treatment as soon as possible by cleaning the wound with soap and water. If the culprit was a honey bee, the stinger may still be attached to the wound because honey bee stingers are barbed.

Remove it carefully by scraping with a credit card or fingernail. Do NOT squeeze the stinger with a tweezers or fingers. That will only inject more venom into the wound.

After cleaning the wound to prevent infection, cover it with a washcloth and apply a cold pack or cold, wet washcloth to reduce swelling. Watch for signs of an allergic reaction over the next 72 hours.

If wheezing, difficulty breathing, tightness in the throat or chest, swelling of the lips, dizziness, fainting, vomiting, nausea, or a rash or swelling around the sting site persists, visit a physician. In most cases, these symptoms will not occur.

So much for stings; bites from certain invertebrates can be equally painful. Mosquitoes are everywhere, and the best way to avoid bites is to slather on insect repellent.


The Mayo Clinic suggests treating mosquito bite symptoms such as swelling and itching with oral antihistamines and topical lotions. Horse flies and deer flies are the worst of the biting insects. They are most common around barnyards, but they can appear just about anywhere.

Horse and deer fly mouthparts are essentially razor sharp blades. Upon landing on a patch of exposed skin, females almost instantly slice and dice to get blood flowing. Anticoagulants in the saliva insure the blood flows for as long as several minutes.

Blood meals are essential to nourish developing eggs. (Males drink nectar.) Bites of deer and horse flies are painful, but they are nonvenomous. Treat bites with soap and water and a cold compress.

Ticks are difficult to avoid if you spend any time in the woods or tall grass. Again, the best way to avoid ticks is to use a DEET-based repellent. Tuck pant legs into socks and wrap in duct tape. Do frequent tick checks. Shower after being outdoors.


If you find an attached tick, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends using a fine tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible. Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Do not twist of jerk the tick. If the mouthparts break off, remove them with the tweezers.

Then clean the area with rubbing alcohol and soap and water. If after finding an attached deer tick, you find a bull’s eye rash symptomatic of Lyme disease, or develop other symptoms such as fever, chills, and/or achy muscles, see a physician as soon as possible.

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Scott Shalaway, who holds a Ph.D. in wildlife ecology from Michigan State University, writes from his home in rural West Virginia. A former faculty member at Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma Biological Station, he has been writing a weekly nature column for newspapers and freelancing for magazines since 1986. He can be heard on Birds & Nature from 3-4 p.m. Sunday afternoons on 620 KHB Radio, Pittsburgh, or live online anywhere at, or on the Tune-In radio app. Visit his website at or contact him directly at or 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033.



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