Are bites and stings dangerous


Animal and insect bites and stings are relatively common minor injuries. Usually, they will heal on their own and will not cause serious or permanent damage, but they can be serious and it is important to know appropriate first aid measures.

What are the possible complications of bites and stings?

Many animal bites result in puncture wounds – deep wounds that penetrate the tissue underneath the skin and cause internal damage. The germs from the animal’s mouth can then be carried deep into the wound and may cause serious infections.

The adder is the only poisonous snake in the UK, and although the venom can be fatal, the number of recorded deaths is very small indeed.

There is one serious complication of insect stings. A small percentage of people can develop a life- threatening allergic reaction called anaphylactic shock, where airways become swollen and reduce the air getting to the lungs. The symptoms of anaphylactic shock are red, blotchy skin with raised areas, swelling of the face and neck, puffiness around the eyes, wheezing and difficulty breathing, rapid pulse and loss of consciousness. Anaphylactic shock is a very serious condition and requires immediate hospital treatment.

What should I do if someone has been bitten or stung?

First, assess the seriousness of the bite or sting.

Serious bites and stings

If the bite is large and/or bleeding heavily, take the person to the nearest GP or hospital, or call 999 for an ambulance

If the person has been stung in the mouth, give them ice to suck on and phone 999 for an ambulance

If you suspect the person is going into anaphylactic shock, call for an ambulance immediately. Check the person's ABC (see box bellow) and if necessary (and you are trained to do so), perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation

You should be aware that coming into contact with blood and body fluids may expose you to infections such as hepatitis B and C, and HIV. If the bite is bleeding, do not touch it with your bare hands. Ideally, put on a pair of disposable, preferably sterile gloves: if you do not have a first aid box to hand or you do not have disposable gloves, use another type of barrier, such as a thickly folded dish towel or clean handkerchief, and wash you hands thoroughly before and after touching the person.

Minor animal bites

Wash the wound with warm water and soap, if possible

Pat the wound dry, and cover it with a plaster or small dressing, or any piece of clean, non-textured cloth that you have to hand

If the person has been bitten by an animal, check with its owners about current immunisations. The person who has been bitten should see their doctor about a tetanus immunisation. Afterwards, keep an eye on the wound for signs of infection (redness, swelling and heat concentrated at the site of the wound).

If the person has been bitten by a snake, keep the wounded area below the level of the heart and do not allow the person to walk around, as this will spread the venom through the body. If you can, immobilise the injured area using strips of cloth and padding tied into a splint. Call an ambulance.

Minor insect bites and stings

Bites from insects such as mosquitoes, fleas or flies usually do not require medical attention. Even stings from bees, wasps or hornets, although painful and frightening, are not usually serious.

If the stinger it still there, remove it by scraping a credit card over the surface; do not try to remove it with tweezers – you may squeeze more venom out of the venom sac into the wound

Apply a cold compress (any clean cloth soaked in cold water will do) to reduce the pain and swelling

A paste of baking soda mixed with water can help to relieve the pain.

If the pain and swelling do not go away, or if it gets worse over the next day or two, the person should see a doctor

As mentioned above, if you suspect the person is having an allergic reaction to a sting (anaphylactic shock) you must phone for an ambulance immediately.

What can I do to prevent bites and stings?

There are several measures you can take to reduce the likelihood of being bitten or stung:

Do not approach wild animals, especially if they seem injured

Avoid strange cats and dogs

Do not wear strong perfume, which will attract bees and wasps

Use an insect repellent

Take care when eating and drinking: bees and wasps are attracted to sweet, sugary foods. Take particular care when drinking from cans of soft drink: always use a straw or pour the drink into a cup or glass

If you come across a wasp or bees' nest, do not disturb it

Avoid dense forested areas in hot weather and in the height of summer.

Take a walking stick if you intend to walk through long grass or undergrowth: your stick will disturb a snake or other biting animal before you do

Wear protective clothing: long socks and long-sleeved garments will provide protection from bites and stings

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