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Treating Insect and Spider Bites and Stings

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

DISCLAIMER: The following information is not intended, nor should it be assumed to be, a substitute for formal training in First Aid treatment and procedures. This information is presented to raise awareness of some medical conditions which can arise on canoeing, camping or hiking trips so that participants may better prepare themselves for all eventualities. The information presented is not intended to replace advice or instructions given by trained professional medical personnel. Information herein is gleened from various professional medical resources including the US Navy On-line Hospital web site, the American Red Cross web site and other reliable resources. It must be realized that improper or inadequate treatment of injuries can result in damages that sometimes are greater than doing nothing at all. Whenever possible and practical the assistance of trained, professional medical personnel should be summoned to administer treatment for serious injuries. The nature of outdoor recreation is such that injuries sometimes occur in remote areas far from available professional assistance. The information in this section is intended to be a helpful guide for treatment of injuries in such cases when getting professional help is not immediate and the nature of the injuries requires prompt attention. Marc McCord is not a trained medical practitioner, and makes no claim of expertise in treatment of injuries. Marc McCord and Southwest Paddler are not responsible for improper treatment of injuries and resulting damages that may occur.

Paddling is a sport that is enjoyed in places where many types and species of things that bite and sting exist. Some of these creatures include mosquitoes, chiggers, ticks, spiders, ants, bees, wasps, hornets, scorpions and other unsavory critters. While generally nothing more than a nuisance, bites and stings can have very serious consequences on some people due to allergic reactions or poisoning, as with certain spiders and scorpions. For the rest they can produce varying levels of discomfort, sometimes distracting a paddler from the tasks at hand when running a river where attention is necessary. In rare cases bites and stings can result in serious injury or even death. For these reasons it is advisable to know and understand how to identify and avoid certain insects and spiders, and treat injuries inflicted by bites and stings that may occur while paddling, camping or hiking. Because of the diverse nature of these types of injuries and their treatments this section will be broken down into discussions about each significant malady.

Common Bites and Stings

Common allegic reactions frequently occur from the bites or stings of fire ants, hornets, honey bees, yellowjackets and wasps. Commercially available remedies for these types of injuries should be a standard component of any good First Aid kit. Depending upon the severity of the bite or sting reaction may vary from a minor nuisance to serious complications. Some common signs and symptoms of insect bites and stings may include:

    1. Itching, swelling, redness and/or pain around the afflicted area;
    2.breathing difficulties, trouble swallowing, abdominal cramps, flushing, hives or similar traits;
    3.In extreme cases, shock or even death.

Depending upon the nature and severity of the bite or sting, and the allergic reaction of the victim, the floowing actions may be required to treat the injury and its symptoms:

    1. Keep the victim lying down, calm, still and warm;
    2. Immobilize the wound, keeping it at or just slightly below the level of the heart;
    3. Unless the victim objects, remove anyjewelry or restrictive clothing around the affected area;
    4. Scrape stingers away from the wound using the edge of a plastic card, plastic picnic knife or other non-cutting object - do NOT use tweezers to remove a stinger;
    5. Using soap and water, carefully wash and rinse the affected area twice;
    6. Use a coldpack or cold compress to prevent or reduce pain and swelling;
    7. Remember your ABC's - monitor airways, breathing and circulation, and treat any complications;
    8. If necessary, treat for shock or state of shock;
    9. Get professional medical assistance as quickly as possible, if needed or if unsure.

Spider Bites and Scorpion Stings

Scorpions and some spiders are capable of inflicting very painful, and sometimes deadly, injuries. In order of priority, the two most serious spider bites resulting in injury or death are from the black widow and the brown recluse. These can be as dangerous, or more so, than the bite of a poisonous snake, and great care should be taken to avoid them whenever possible.

The black widow is a small, jet-black spider with a red hourglass-shaped marking on the underside of its abdomen. Those spiders with a similar-looking white marking on their backs are NOT black widows, though they are frequently mistaken for them. The bite of a black widow may produce these symptoms and signs:

    1. Pain and spasms in the chest, shoulders, back and abdominal muscles within 30 minutes after a bite;
    2. Nausea, vomiting and rigidity in the abdomen;
    3. Anxiety, fear, rashes and sweating.

If you know of, or suspect, a black widow bite, then these actions should be taken immediately:

    1. Apply coldpacks to the bite area (do NOT use ice!);
    2. Monitor airways, breathing and circulation, treating any complications that arise;
    3. Treat for shock or state of shock, if necessary;
    4. Transport the victim (and the spider, if possible) to the nearest professional medical treatment center ASAP!

The second most serious spider bite is that of the brown recluse, a yellow to dark brown spider with long legs and a distinctive marking on its upper back that resembles a violin. The bite of a brown recluse is very serious - it is a non-healing injury that requires skin grafts to repair. Contact with the brown recluse should be avopided whenever possible, and especially in remote areas where professional medical treatment is unavailable for an extended period ot hours or days.

A brown recluse bite will produce these symptoms and signs:

    1. A white area surrounded by a blue "bulls-eye" that eventually turns red;
    2. Nausea, vomiting, chills, fever and pain in the joints within 24 hours;
    3. An ulcer within 10 days.

If you know of, or suspect, a brown recluse bite, then these actions should be taken immediately:

    1. Monitor airways, breathing and circulation, treating any complications that arise;
    2. Treat for shock or state of shock, if necessary;
    3. Transport the victim (and the spider, if possible) to the nearest professional medical treatment center ASAP!

Tick Bites

Ticks come in a wide variety of sizes and shapes, and most pose nothing more than a minor inconvenience, though it is always best to remove them as soon as possible. Ticks are bloodsuckers, and can carry diseases such as Lyme Disease, Rock Mountain Spotted Fever and many other bacterial diseases that are transmitted directly into the bloodstream. The most serious of these illnesses is Lyme Disease, a condition that is transmitted by the Deer Tick, a very small, and hard to detect species of ticks. We are fortunate in that Deer Ticks are not generally found in Texas and surrounding states (most cases reported have been in the far northeast U.S.), but that could always change. Hats should always be worn in the wilderness, where ticks are known to populate, and animals taken into tick country should be pre-treated to repel tick bites.

Symptoms and signs associated with Lyme Disease include:

    1. A reddish circular rash, sometimes with a crusty border around it;
    2. Chills and fever;
    3. Blurred vision, joint and muscle pain and stiffness, and difficulty moving;
    4. Symptoms of arthritis.

Signs and symptoms often associated with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever include nausea, vomiting, general weakness and abdonimal pains, such signs usually appearing about 10 days after the bite. Treatment for tick bites is as follows:

    1. Grasping the tick as close to the skin as possible using tweezers, remove it as soon as possible;
    2. Wash the tick bite area with soap and water;
    3. Make a note of the date on which the bite was received for future reference in the event of complications.

Wild Animal Bites

Sometimes, paddlers encounter biting animals such as dogs, cats, raccoons, skunks, rats, bats, or a number of other animals that may exist in areas on or near rivers. Animal bites can be very serious, and can sometimes lead to crippling diseases or death. Rabies is one of the worst diseases that can be acquired from animal bites, especially in the wilderness, and its treatment is costly and painful. Wild animals should generally be observed, but not approached whenever possible. Pets taken along on river trips should be restained to prevent them from confrontations with diseased animals.

In the event an animal bite is suffered the following steps should be taken to reduce injury:

    1. Control bleeding using direct pressure and by elevating the wound (do NOT use a tourniquet except as a measure of last resort);
    2. Wash the bite area thoroughly with soap and water, rinse, then apply a sterile bandage;
    3. Transport victim to the nearest medical facility as promptly as possible.

If you must kill an attacking animal after a bite is suffered, then DO NOT damage its head - instead, remove the head carefully, place it in a sealed plastic bag, and bring it to the medical facility along with the victim. In the case of rabies the beain must be examined to determine the presence of the disease so that appropriate treatment may begin as soon as possible. Rabid animals act irrationally, display a general fear of water (hydrophobia) and may exhibit foaming around the mouth, depending upon the stage of development of the disease within them.

For additional information regarding broken bones and treatment please visit the US Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery web site at Standard First Aid Practices for Broken Bones

For general First Aid information Click HERE

Sunburn Insect Bites & Stings Poisonous Plants
Heat-Related Illnesses Hypothermia Cuts and Abrasions
Bone Breaks Bleeding Snakebites
Treating Shock Heart Attack Animal Bites
American Red Cross American Heart Association American Lung Association
US Navy On-line Hospital Wilderness Medical Associates Wilderness Survival School

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