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How to prevent summer's bug bites (6/24/97)

Summer wouldn't be summer without bug bites. For the most part, insect bites are harmless, but there are exceptions.

"Spiders, fleas and, ticks pose the most health risk while for many people, bee, wasp and hornet stings are easily treatable," said Jon Thompson, Director, South Texas Poison Center at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

To treat bee, wasp, hornet and fire ant stings, Thompson recommends a simple home remedy solution of one part bleach to nine parts water. Soak a paper towel or wash cloth in the solution and place it over the sting area for 15 minutes. For added effectiveness, an ice pack may be put on top of the compress.

A small number of individuals have severe reactions to bites and stings. Severe reaction symptoms can include shock, swelling in the face, breathing difficulties, fluid in the lungs, and a severe drop in blood pressure. With these symptoms, the patient needs to be rushed to the emergency room or 911 should be called.

According to Thompson only two spiders in Texas pose a threat to humans: the black widow and the brown recluse. Symptoms from these two spider bites include pain, redness, tenderness and a "bulls-eye" mark on the skin. Recommended treatment is washing the area immediately with soapy water or applying a diluted bleach compress and calling a poison control center.

Flea and tick bites may cause Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever or Lyme disease. To remove a tick, grasp it close to the skin, and pull upward with steady pressure. Make sure the entire tick has been removed, clean the area with antiseptic and apply a topical antibiotic. Symptoms of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever or Lyme disease usually do not appear for a few days to a couple of weeks. They include headache, chills, high fever and a distinctive rash. These symptoms require medical attention.

Insect repellants containing DEET (Diethyl-m-toluamide) help keep flea, tick and mosquito bite reactions to a minimum but should not be used on babies 12 months or younger.

"The best defense against bug bites is prevention. When working outside, wear shoes, gloves, hat, sunscreen and use an insect repellant," Thompson added.

The South Texas Poison Center is staffed 24 hours a day and may be reached by calling 1-800-764-7661 (1-800-POISON-1).

Contact: Myong Covert (210) 567-2570