Most bug bites and stings are just an annoyance, causing minor itching or burning that goes away on its own with time. But bites and stings can become emergencies if there is an allergic reaction, the area becomes infected or you have symptoms of a vector-borne disease (human illnesses transmitted by bugs). In fact, the CDC recently (May 2018) published new findings that between 2004 and 2016 disease cases from mosquitos, ticks and flea bites tripled in the US.
Here are some tips to help you know when to call 9-1-1 or head to the emergency room.
Even if you’ve been stung before with no problems, you can get a sudden and severe allergic reaction to an insect sting or bite. Signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction may include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Rash at the sting/bite area or other places on the body
- Hives (red, inflamed areas of the skin)
- Swelling of the face, lips, mouth, throat or tongue
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Fast heartbeat
A severe, system-wide allergic reaction is called anaphylaxis and can be deadly. People with known reactions may carry epinephrine shots, which should be immediately administered (follow directions on the shot). Anytime anaphylaxis is suspected, you should immediately call 9-1-1.
Mosquito season runs from the summer through the fall. While most times, mosquitos just bring itch and annoyance, the dangers of mosquito-borne illness are still present.
Zika is still very rare in the United States. In 2017, there were 432 symptomatic Zika case reported in the US and most cases were in travelers returning from affected areas. Only a total of five cases were acquired from mosquitos in Florida and Texas (none in our area). But be aware, two types of mosquitoes that can carry the virus were reported in the area last summer.
While most cases aren’t serious, West Nile Virus is currently considered more of a threat in the KC region. In Kansas and Missouri there were a total of 41 cases with one fatality in 2017. And last summer, there were West Nile positive mosquitos in Johnson, Shawnee, Sedgwick and Reno counties. So far in 2018, two Johnson County residents have developed serious West Nile infections.
Late summer and early fall are peak times for West Nile Virus. Protect yourself. Especially at dusk and dawn. Wear bug spray and long sleeve and pants. If you have mosquito bites followed by cold or flu-like symptoms, it’s best to be seen by a doctor.
Tick Borne Disease
Lyme, Ehrlichia, Bourbon, Heartland, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Tularemia – tick-borne illnesses can be a cause for concern in the Kansas City region. And “tick time” usually runs from May through September.
If you find a tick, use steady, gentle pressure to remove it so it doesn’t break. Head to the emergency room if you have any of these symptoms after a tick bite:
- Large, raised rash, sometimes in a bulls-eye pattern around the bite
- Swollen glands, fever, body aches or flu-like symptoms
If you do find a tick, save it in a jar or write down a description. Not all ticks carry the same diseases and knowing the type of tick that bit you can help doctors to treat your symptoms.
There’s a reason why your mom always told you to stop scratching those mosquito bites—infection is a real risk. Infections usually appear about three days after the bite or sting, but can appear anytime. Here are some signs to watch out for:
- Redness or swelling around the bite/sting site that gets worse with time (some redness is normal)
- Open sores
- Red streaks from the bite or sting area up toward the heart
Rare, Poisonous Bites
Bites from poisonous spiders like the brown-recluse or black widow sound scary, but it is extremely rare for anyone to die from them. Young children and the elderly are most at risk for serious complications. The bites of these insects themselves are often painless – people may not even know they’ve been bitten. But pain at the site of the bite can occur later, along with muscle aches or spasms, flu-like symptoms, headache and vomiting. Severe symptoms like these from any cause require immediate medical attention.
If You Need The Emergency Room
One thing the emergency room staff can’t tell you about your bug bite or sting—which insect bit you. Most bites or stings look similar and it’s often impossible to know for sure what insect did the damage. But no matter what the cause is, the doctors and nurses at your local HCA Midwest Health ER are ready to address your symptoms, provide relief and help ensure your recovery.
Still not sure whether you should head to the emergency room or your symptoms? Talk to a registered nurse 24 hours per day, 7 days a week by calling 1-800-386-9355 (Nurses On Call is a free service of HCA Midwest Health).