The dreaded tiger mosquito, wasps, bees, jellyfish... there is a long list of ‘bugs’ which we are likely to come across in the summer months, a time of year when we spend more time outdoors.
Although tiger mosquitos are proving to be a problem and GPs are seeing numerous patients who have been badly bitten, there are plenty of others to look out for. Is there a way to prevent a bite or sting ruining our holidays or a stroll on a summer’s evening after work? Doctors say there is, but there are two things to bear in mind: prevention, and immediate action.
As a preventive measure, doctors recommend using repellents, especially in the evenings, and these should be applied to the skin and clothing.
“It’s important to remember to apply repellent to your clothes because tiger mosquitos, for example, can bite through them,” explains Adriana Beccalli, a pediatrician at the Clinical Management unit at the health centre in San Pedro Alcántara, in Marbella. She says that during the summer months about 40 per cent of patients seen by pediatricians are suffering from bites or stings, especially in cases where the swelling is affecting the eyes, face and legs.
When buying an insect repellent, Dr Beccalli recommends buying one from a pharmacy and making sure it contains a high concentration of DEET (N,N-diethyl-toluamide). This is a versatile and effective repellent for insects.
“There are plenty of products which are sold as repellents but we have no scientific evidence to show how effective they are,” she says. For young children she recommends natural products, such as those with citronella, whether in the form of roll-on or patch, and using mosquito nets in the house and on prams and cots.
Another preventive measure to be carried out at home is to make sure you have nothing containing water, because these will undoubtedly attract flying insects.
In the case of bees and wasps, prevention involves using your common sense: don’t go near places where they congregate, don’t walk barefoot on grass or other surfaces where they might be, don’t make sudden movements in their presence and don’t wear brightly coloured clothes. Avoid strong colognes and perfumes, too, as these can be attractive to wasps and bees.
If you have been bitten or stung by mosquitos, bees or wasps, the first thing to do is to wash the bite or sting with water and soap, and if it is not very serious use products such as Talquistina.
In the case of a violent reaction, especially with severe swelling, apply something cold “but don’t put ice directly on to the skin, wrap it in a cloth,” advises Dr Beccalli. Using cortisone cream and taking antihistamines can also help to relieve the pain and itching. If the sting is from a bee, it is important to remove the sting and then apply something cold.
Adriana Beccalli also says it is important to seek emergency treatment if the inflammation from a sting or bite affects an eye, the face or the neck, especially in the case of a child.
Rule number one in the case of a jellyfish sting, says the doctor, is to resist the urge to rub the area. This type of wound should be washed with salt water or physiological serum and the remains of any tentacles should be removed. An application of something cold is also recommended and necessary, although in this case it should be applied for longer than for mosquito or bee stings, between 15 and 30 minutes. Cortisone creams and antihistamines will help to ease the pain and itching.
Although most consultations at health centres are for mosquito bites which are seriously inflamed or persistent, Dr Beccalli points out that in recent years there have been more cases of serious bites. Why is that?
“We need to analyse it from an epidemiological point of view,” she says. “What we are seeing are cases where skins are more sensitive to bites or stings, and that has a lot to do with the smell of the perspiration. Some types of skin react differently, and in some cases the inflammation can be quite serious.” She quotes a case at the health centre in which she works, of two children who had to be admitted to hospital because they reacted so badly to bites and needed antibiotics. “That’s why it’s so important to keep an eye on children if they have been bitten or stung by an insect,” she says.
When travelling abroad, it is just as important to know the risks and the effects of insect bites or stings. “You should always take a repellent product with you, have any vaccinations you may need before you go, and above all be well informed and advised,” says Dr Beccalli.
In a situation like this some websites can be very useful for travellers, such as that of the Ministry of Health or the Spanish Association of Pediatrics.