Avoid the sting this summer

As we start to celebrate summer and spend more time outside, the risk of getting stung by a bee becomes a real possibility. And while to some people stings can be little more than a painful nuisance, for others they can have severe health consequences. When you’re making plans to spend time outdoors, ensure you have a prevention strategy in place.

You’ve probably heard that bees can sting only once – since their stingers detach, they die shortly afterward.

That is true, but only for honey bees, whose barbed stingers get stuck in your skin. Other bees (such as bumblebees) have smooth stingers that enable them to sting over and over again.

However, bees typically won’t sting unless they feel threatened. If you leave bees alone, they’ll do the same to you.

While they can sometimes be mistaken for bees, wasps are significantly more aggressive. Yellow jacket wasps are responsible for 70 per cent of insect stings in North America, according to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS).

In early summer, wasps search for high protein foods to feed their larvae, which is what brings them to June cookouts and barbecues. It’s also what attracts them to pet food, which is why it’s best to keep all food inside or in a sealed container.

Later in the season, they’re on the hunt for sugar, which attracts them to soda cans and candy wrappers. If you’re outside and want to avoid pesky visitors from entering your sugary soda, make sure you watch the opening or use an enclosed cup with a straw. 

Allergic reactions
Most bee and wasp stings cause pain, swelling and itchiness around the stung area. But that’s where symptoms usually end – after a few days, they go away.

However, it’s a different story if you’re allergic. When we get stung, our bodies release histamine, a chemical that helps the immune system fight off invaders. In the process, it causes redness, swelling and itching. When someone with an allergy is stung, this histamine reaction is stronger than normal – and for some when histamine is released into the airways, it may cause the throat to close up in an anaphylactic reaction. Blood pressure may also plummet to dangerously low levels.

If you’re having a severe reaction, you should seek emergency medical assistance. If you know you’re allergic, doctors suggest carrying an emergency epinephrine needle such as an EpiPen. Epinephrine helps temporarily open airways to give you more time to seek help. If you don’t know if you’re allergic, consider getting an allergy test.

When possible, avoid bees and wasps altogether. However, that’s usually easier said than done. If you think you’ll encounter bees or wasps while outdoors, keep these tips in mind:

  • Avoid wearing any scented products – wasps may be attracted by the scent.
  • Cover up – wear pants, long-sleeve shirts, and closed-toe shoes. The CCOHS recommends wearing thicker material, as some stingers are only long enough to reach through thin fabrics.
  • Don’t wear brightly coloured clothing – it may attract bees or wasps.
  • If you’re having a picnic, forego overripe fruit, which attracts wasps.
  • If you encounter a nest or infestation on your property, don’t attempt to deal with it yourself – it’s best to talk to a professional.
  • If a bee or wasp lands on you, stay as still as possible. It will only sting if it feels threatened, so if you avoid sudden movement, it should eventually fly away.
If you get stung by a bee, it’s important to remove the stinger as soon as possible. The most recommended method is to scrape a thin, dull edge such as a credit card against the stinger. Squeezing the stinger may release more venom into the wound.

Wash the area with soap and water. Ice, calamine lotion, acetylsalicylic acid and antihistamines can help reduce itching.

Don’t let the bugs bite
Even when there are no bees or wasps around, creepy crawlies can still find a way to interfere with your summer plans.
Here are some general tips for avoiding bug bites this summer:
  • If you’re walking through bushes or trees, keep as much skin covered as possible – and wear light-coloured clothing so it’s easier to spot ticks hitching a ride or mosquitos moving in for a snack.
  • If you have a yard, get rid of standing water to stop the spread of mosquitos, and get rid of lawn cuttings immediately so that mosquitos or ticks can’t find a place to rest.
  • After spending time outdoors, check yourself for ticks. The longer a tick remains in your skin, the higher your chance of developing Lyme disease.
  • Wear insect repellant that contains DEET.
  • When you’re working outside, wear gloves – spiders can hang out in dusty corners and woodpiles, so gloves can protect your hands from surprise bites.
  • Make sure any holes or cracks on the outside of your home are filled in to prevent insects from entering your house or nesting in your walls.

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