First Aid for bites and stings

As a nation that enjoys the great outdoors, South Africans often share their outdoor spaces with creatures that may be rather dangerous to humans. This is especially true of creatures of the creepy crawly variety, such as spiders, scorpions and snakes.

According to Dr Ashley Chengadoo of Medicross Boksburg, “The good news is that most bites and stings usually do not pose a serious threat to our health and often just cause localised itching, pain, mild swelling and or a redness that disappear within a few hours or, at worst, a day or two if such stings and bites are treated both timeously and appropriately.”

If you happen to get stung or bitten, Dr Chengadoo recommends moving away from the creature as quickly as possible to avoid getting stung again. “Try to remember as many details as possible about the creature that bit or stung you and if it is safe do so, take a picture of the creature so that medical personnel can give you the most appropriate treatment,” advises Dr Chengadoo.

First aid for bee stings

  • Use a knife, bankcard or your fingernail to gently scrape out the bee sting before cleaning the area concerned.
  • Avoid squeezing the sting as this may inject further venom into your skin.
  • Take particular care if you are allergic to bee stings, as they can cause an severe reaction known as anaphylactic shock, which can be potentially life threatening. If you know that you are allergic, wear a medical bracelet and carry an adrenalin injection and antihistamine pills at all times.
  • Remember you can develop an allergy to bees at any time in your life, even if you have never been allergic before.
  • Symptoms of an allergic reaction include difficulty breathing and swallowing, choking or wheezing, pain in the abdomen and/or chest, nausea and vomiting, feeling faint, severe headaches and general or localised skin changes such as a rash or itching.
  • If you show signs of having a severe reaction to a bite or sting, you should get to a doctor or a hospital as soon as possible.

Scorpions and spiders

South Africa has many different species of spiders and scorpions, many of which are not venomous. “Scorpion stings are rarely fatal in South Africa, but they can be extremely painful, causing sweating, heart palpitations, rising blood pressure, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea,” notes Dr Chengadoo.

He adds that there are three medically important spiders in South Africa, which include the black button spider, the violin spider and the sac spider. “The black button spider is considered the most dangerous and has a neurotoxic venom that can cause pain, cramps and severe anxiety. If you are not sure what has stung or bitten you, it is important to visit your nearest emergency room as soon as possible,” asserts Dr Chengadoo.

Preventing and treating snake bites

  • Wearing long pants made of thick materials such as denim can prevent snakes from injecting venom.
  • Try to stay on paths and trails when walking in the bush or through the veld.
  • If you see a snake, it is important to back away slowly and avoid agitating the snake as most snakes do not bite without being provoked.
  • South Africa has very effective anti-venoms however many bites can be time sensitive. It is therefore vital to visit your nearest medical facility as soon as possible after you have been bitten.
  • Remain calm and avoid moving the body part that was bitten.
  • Avoid eating or drinking anything, especially alcohol, unless directed to do so by a medical professional.

Bluebottles and jellyfish

  • To avoid getting stung by jellyfish or blue bottles, watch out for them when you walk on the beach or swim in the sea.
  • If you get stung by a bluebottle or jellyfish get out of the water immediately and do not rub the affected area but rinse it with seawater instead.
  • You can alleviate the burn by applying vinegar or alcohol or treating it with a topical antihistamine cream or calamine lotion.
  • As with other bites and stings, seek medical attention if you develop muscle spasms, have difficulty breathing or develop an infection.

“Scorpions, spiders or snakes can be found all over South Africa, but it is a valuable exercise to find out which kinds are most common in the area that you find yourself in. Large numbers of people are bitten and stung every year because they are overly inquisitive and often inadvertently provoke these creatures. If you do happen to encounter one of them, give them a wide berth and leave them in peace,” concludes Dr Chengadoo.

In the event of an emergency call an emergency services provider such as Netcare 911 as soon as possible. The contact telephone number for Netcare 911 is 082 911.

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