Bites & Stings

scorpionEl alacran; The common striped scorpion is the most common and widespread scorpion in North America, and is often found indoors. Most kinds of scorpions deliver stings that are painful, like a wasp or bee sting, but not dangerous unless one is allergic; most reactions include intense burning, swelling and numbness for several hours. Only the bark scorpion, found in Arizona, New Mexico and Mexico, is a dangerous threat to life; I’m not aware that they are a significant problem in our area. Around houses, scorpions hide in crawl spaces, or inside clothing (shoes) where they have crawled to avoid sunlight.

Always shake out shoes, socks, pants and other clothing before dressing; check bedding and towels before using. An Epipen is a must for those with previous severe allergic reactions to stinging insects, such as wasps or bees; use it immediately after being stung, and then seek medical attention at once. Icing the bite site, and elevating the involved extremity will provide some comfort. Most people will have local reactions only; if, however, systemic symptoms occur, such as a rapid heart rate, breathing problems, trouble swallowing, restlessness, or involuntary muscle jerking, you will require hospital treatment. The bottom line is that, unless you have severe allergies, a scorpion bite is essentially an unpleasant inconvenience.

Antihistamines can also minimize the reaction. Locally, there is a product called Avapena (chloropiramina), usually available at the guardhouse, although, when I checked, it wasn’t! This is comparable to Chlor-Tripolon 4mg (chlorpheniramine) or Benadryl 25 or 50mg (diphenhydramine), which you can purchase over the counter in Canada. You can also use INSECTRIN to spray around doors and windows to discourage entry; your unit is also fumigated several times a year.

A few words concerning mosquitoes: they carry many diseases – malaria, dengue fever, yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis. Malaria is the most important – one strain, Plasmodium falciparum may be fatal if improperly treated. There was an outbreak of dengue fever in Puerto Vallarta, with deaths of young healthy people, in 2003; dengue is carried by mosquitoes that bite after sunrise and before sunset. The main defense against many of these diseases is prevention – clothing that covers arms, legs, the use of DEET 30%, use of a bednet if necessary, or a closed room; remember, for malaria, mosquitoes are most active from dusk to dawn. Check with your travel clinic as to the prevalence of these, and if they recommend medication, it is started before departure, taken during the time of your stay, and for a time after returning home; most cases of malaria in travelers occurs in people who have stopped taking their medication too soon!

DEET/sunscreen combinations should not be used because DEET can decrease the efficacy of sunscreens by up to 34%. If the application of both products is required, apply the sunscreen first, allowing it to penetrate the skin for 20 minutes before the application of the DEET.

The following personal measures are very important: limit outdoor exposure from dusk to dawn, use protective clothing, use an insect repellent containing DEET (eg Muskol), use an insect net at night (when necessary). Antimalarial medications lower your risk of becoming ill; they do not prevent an infection; they merely suppress it. SEEK IMMEDIATE MEDICAL CARE FOR ANY FEVER DURING AND AFTER TRAVEL TO A MALARIA AREA (up to a year, but usually within the first three months)!! Malaria is preventable!