Bug Off

Insect bites and your health: what to know and what to do.

Bug OffPhoto: iStock

For every human on the planet, there are approximately 200 million insects, so it’s little wonder we have occasional run-ins with them. Thankfully, most bug bites and stings are more pesky than harmful. That said, there are times when a visit to the doctor is called for-namely when there are signs of a toxic reaction, an extreme allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) or an infectious disease.

It’s possible to fall victim to both toxicity (when insect venom acts like a poison) and anaphylaxis (when your immune system overreacts to the venom). If you’re having a toxic and/or anaphylactic reaction, the symptoms can include difficulty breathing, nausea, fainting, muscle spasms or vomiting, and you should seek medical attention immediately.

When it comes to infectious disease, the two principal culprits are ticks and mosquitoes. The former can carry the bacteria that cause Lyme disease, so get checked out if you develop a fever, a skin rash with rings like a bull’s eye, joint pain or weakness in your face muscles within weeks after finding a tick burrowing into your skin.

Mosquitoes may carry West Nile virus (although the great majority do not), and in warmer climes, such as Italy and Australia, they’ve been known to transmit so-called tropical diseases like dengue or chikungunya. Several populations of mosquitoes that can spread tropical diseases appear to be heading further and further north into Europe, and this expansion is “associated with changes in ecosystems, human behaviour and climate,” says Giovanni Mancarella, a spokesperson for the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

Mosquito-borne infections can be asymptomatic and hard to detect, but keep an eye out for high fevers, headaches and joint pain, and tell a doctor about “any unusual symptoms that occur after travelling to tropical or subtropical countries,” says Mancarella.

Above all, don’t let apprehension keep you from enjoying the outdoors-just take precautions, such as wearing insect repellent and clothing that blocks access to your skin.

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