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Spiders, Ticks & Skeeters

At work or play, when you’re outdoors there’s always the possibility of a close encounter with a wasp, bee, or other insect that stings or bites. The “big three” summertime insect threats are ticks, spiders and mosquitoes. Certainly there are many more pesky bugs, but these three can present threats much greater than frustration and irritation.

Ticks are found across the United States, with Lyme disease-causing ticks (deer ticks, aka black-legged ticks) located mostly in the Eastern half of the country and ticks carrying Rocky Mountain spotted fever located in the Rocky Mountain states. Spiders may seem small, but their bites can cause big problems. Mosquitoes are everywhere in season, and their ubiquity can lead us to see them as a mere nuisance. But they can carry deadly diseases.  

You may not feel the sting or bite when it happens, but you’ll probably soon notice swelling, redness, itching, or even pain. Some people have to worry about much more than that, though. If you’re allergic to bites or stings, they could cause hives, dizziness, stomach cramps, or nausea. In rare cases, people feel weak or have trouble breathing or swallowing. In the worst instances, that can lead to unconsciousness, and even shock or death. There are insects like black flies and tiny red chiggers whose bites cause serious itching. They rarely lead to worse problems, however.

Spider bites are generally harmless, with a few exceptions, such as the bite of the black widow spider. This poisonous spider is glossy black with a red hourglass mark on the stomach. It measures just one-half inch in diameter, and lives in woodpiles, sheds, and basements. The bite itself may not hurt, but it could cause bad stomach pain and cramps, breathing difficulty, and possibly nausea, sweating, twitching, shaking, and tingling
in the hand. See a doctor immediately for black widow spider bites.

Also be alert for brown recluse spiders. They’re smaller than black widows and have a white pattern that looks like a violin on their backs. Their bites can be painful and cause some of the same reactions as black widows, but- folklore and myth aside, they’re not as dangerous. Contrary to popular belief, there has not been a single confirmed death in the United States from a brown recluse spider, according to Richard S. Vetter, the leading expert in the field.

As addressed in an earlier article, mosquitoes can carry a number of dangerous and deadly diseases, including malaria, dengue and yellow fevers, several variations of encephalitis, and West Nile virus.

Tick bites are a particular concern. Ticks are tiny bugs that live in tall grass or shrubs and often ride on deer, dogs, mice, or people. Some ticks carry serious illnesses such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease. You need to identify and treat these illnesses early.

Tick Removal- Don’t Listen to “Old Wives”

Check yourself and your clothing for ticks when you finish an outdoor job. If one of these tiny insects is on your skin, remove it quickly. Grab the tick with fine-tipped tweezers, getting as close to the skin as possible. Then pull it straight up with steady even pressure, without any twisting or jerking, so you get all its body parts. If you can’t remove the tick yourself, get medical help to do so. Once it is out, wash the area gently with water and apply rubbing alcohol.

Other tick removal methods you may have heard over the years- using heat (matchstick); fingernail polish; etc.- are not proper ways to remove ticks. In fact, using those methods are much more likely to make the situation worse, than better. Decades ago, I remember learning in Boy Scouts that one should strike a match, blow it out and quickly place the hot tip against the tick, causing it to back out and allow you to brush it off. As it turns out, this procedure is just about the worst thing you can do. Application of heat does in fact get the tick’s attention, Unfortunately, its reaction is not to back out and try to flee. Instead, it tends to cling harder- often increasing the amount of disease-carrying secretions back into the wound. Applying jellies, ointments, nail polish or anything similar, with the intent of “suffocating” the tick making it back out to breath- only serves to prolong the time the tick remains in the wound, increasing the opportunity for disease transmission. Not only does using substances such as petroleum jelly and nail polish actually make it harder, if not impossible for the tick to remove itself, it assumes that the premise itself is sound. In fact, a tick, like many other insects, don’t really breathe that much to begin with.  An unfed adult tick may breathe a few times per hour at rest and only about fifteen times per hour when active.

See a doctor immediately if you develop a large red spot from the bite or if you develop swelling, fever, joint pain, or flu-like symptoms within a few weeks. Physicians can treat tick-borne diseases with antibiotics. However, fast treatment is essential for maximum effectiveness.

Protect yourself from insect-borne diseases by following these tips:

  • Wear light-colored snug clothes. Don’t use perfumes or colognes.
  • Use insect repellent on skin and clothes. Follow label warnings.
  • Get immediate medical attention for black widow spider bite and difficulty breathing or swallowing.
  • Check for tiny ticks after all outdoor work.
  • Remove tick immediately with fine-tipped tweezers. Grab close to skin, pull entire body straight up. Get medical help if you can’t remove it. Then wash with water and cleanse with rubbing alcohol.
  • Get prompt medical attention if tick bite causes red spot or if swelling, fever, joint pain, or flu-like symptoms develop.
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