CINCINNATI—Though snakes and spiders may seem scarier, it’s the bugs with stingers that pose the greatest risk for Cincinnatians in the summer, says a UC toxicology and wilderness medicine expert.
"The most dangerous arthropods we’re likely to encounter this summer all belong to the order Hymenoptera: bees, wasps, yellow jackets, hornets and ants,” says Edward 'Mel' Otten, MD, professor of emergency medicine and director of the emergency department’s toxicology division. "They can get into buildings, automobiles, clothes and are attracted by the food, flowers, scents and clothing that humans have.”
While most people will not develop a serious problem when stung by one of these, Otten says a significant percent of people are allergic to stings and can develop a life-threatening anaphylactic reaction. The reaction can start with a rash and quickly progress to trouble breathing, trouble swallowing, low blood pressure and loss of consciousness.
He says the best way to avoid a sting is to avoid attracting bees or wasps: avoid leaving food around and don’t wear strong scents or bright colors.
Otten says the next most dangerous summer bugs are the biting kind: mosquitoes and ticks. Both can carry diseases like encephalitis or Rocky Mountain spotted fever (which, although not seen in the Rocky Mountains, is common east of the Mississippi River).
To protect yourself and your family, use mosquito repellant when outside (especially after dusk) and check everyone, including pets, for ticks after walking in the park or woods.
Though many people fear snakes, Otten says that they generally are a very minor problem—and those bitten by a snake were probably annoying the animal.
"It is a rare occurrence that a venomous snake bites a person who is not involved with the snake,” he says. "The best bet is to not mess with snakes. It would be rare to encounter a venomous snake in Hamilton County, but if you don’t approach any snake, you will probably never get bitten.”
If you do get stung or bitten this season, below are Otten’s best tips for treatment:
- A bee or wasp sting can be treated with an ice cube.
- Witch Hazel helps with mosquito bites and ticks should be removed with tweezers.
- Anyone allergic to stings should carry an Epi-Pen and know how to use it.
- Any bite or sting that involves more than a little tiny mark and minimal itching should be considered a medical problem and should be directed to a physician or emergency department.
- Any snake bite should be evaluated by a medical professional.