So a disaster has struck setting bug-out plans into motion. There’s no place to stay, hotels are full, extended family and friends have been turned out of their homes leaving everyone on their own to seek out shelter. Left out to the whims of the environment, the humans, unfortunately, are on the receiving end of insect bites and stings resulting from the occasional misunderstandings. Other times, we do nothing but sip some unfiltered water or take a few bites of food left out just a little too long.
So what to do when the itching, pain, allergic reactions begin? Or how about when the stomach starts churning sending things up and out every which way? Fortunately, there are things you can do, first aid to alleviate the pains and provide at least a modicum of comfort to the discomforted.
Insect Stings & Bites
- disinfecting or cleaning solution (alcohol swabs, soap & water or hand sanitizers)
cold pack (or cloth to douse in cool water)
- anti-itch cream
- prescription epinephrine injector (EpiPen)
Bees, Wasps & Hornets
Bees infrequently sting (compared to wasps or hornets) and do usually so when overtly bothered or when swarming. A sting is the death to bees, so they don’t take stinging lightly. Wasps and hornets are more aggressive and can sting at the drop of a hat. And when they do, they do so repeatedly.
To minimize irritating the latter, stay alert and avoid their nests. Wasps and hornets will build nests under roof overhangs, sheds, garages and on tree limbs. Hornets will also nest underground, in shrubbery and hollow trees. Both are attracted to meats, fruits and sugary foods and drinks which may bring them in contact with people.
What to do if stung:
1) If stung by a bee, the stinger will probably remain stuck in the skin. Remove immediately with fingernails or tweezers. Hornets and wasps will not leave a stinger behind but will inject a protein venom.
2) Use a cold pack to reduce swelling and pain and swelling
3) Administer an oral antihistamine will help alleviate minor allergic reactions.
If the person stung is one of those who are severely allergic to stings (characterized by difficulty breathing, tightness of the chest, swelling of the throat, dizziness) give them a dose of epinephrine delivered most often with an EpiPen auto-injector. A prescription is required for this device.
Seek out medical attention ASAP, as the reactions could return when epinephrine wears off.
EpiPens typically come in twos, so keep a second injector handy and give an antihistamine every 4 to 6 hours.
Ticks and Fleas
Flea and tick bites can irritate the skin but they can also transmit disease. Typically, these bites will not amount to much beyond slight irritation and redness around the immediate area. Having said that, familiarizing yourself with any illnesses they spread that occur around general region you’re in is worth doing (Lyme disease throughout the Northeastern US and flea transmitted plague in the American Southwest, for example). Avoiding rodent burrows and checking yourself at least twice a day for ticks will go a long way to preventing any problems. If you are bitten:
1) Wash the area around the bite with water and soap or even hand sanitizer
2) If a tick is found attached, grab the tick with a pair of tweezers at skin level and pull straight out, gently.
3)Should a rash develop contact a doctor.
Within in the US there are not many highly poisonous spiders. Most bites are similar to other insect bites, irritating and possibly tender for a few hours. The black widow and brown recluse, however, are two worth watching out for. Reactions to bites from either of these can vary widely, depending on the person and the amount of venom delivered, ranging from mild to severe.
If someone has a more serious reaction than some pain around the site from a black widow bite such as; muscle cramps, intense pain, abdominal and back pain, nausea, vomiting and/or dizziness; seek out medical attention ASAP. Typically, about 90 percent of brown recluse bites will show nothing more than a red spot that heals quickly. But for an unlucky 10%, a bite can develop into an open wound with significant tissue damage that takes 8 weeks to recover.
Initial first aid for both bites involves:
1) Cleaning around the bite area and applying cold to the site
2) Administer an antihistamine to help with itching, while ibuprofen will help with pain.
3) For those exhibiting acute reactions seek out medical attention ASAP and bring the spider with you, if you’re able.
Bites from these spiders are rarely life-threatening.
From copperheads to cottonmouths to rattlesnakes, venomous snakes range across the US. Most bites occur when people wander, unwittingly, too close. At least, rattlesnakes will give a bit of a warning before striking and you will know when you’re bitten. Depending on the species the symptoms include;
- Redness and swelling around the area of the bite which will likely spread
- Severe pain at the site
- Nausea and vomiting
- Labored breathing (in extreme cases, breathing may stop altogether)
- Disturbed vision
- Increased salivation and sweating
- Numbness or tingling around face and/or limbs
A snake bite will require medical attention and the faster a victim can reach a hospital the better. Try to remember the type of snake it was or at the very least its coloration and shape to help doctors identify the species.
In the intervening time provide first aid:
1) Keep the victim still and calm. A slower heart rate will slow the circulation of the venom.
2) Remove or loosen any restrictive clothing or jewelry before swelling cuts off circulation.
3) Keep the bite area and/or limb below the level of the heart. Do not elevate as you would with other types of wounds.
4) Wash the site with soap and water
5) Cover the wound with a dry, loose dressing
According to the CDC do not do any of the following:
- Do not pick up the snake or try to trap it.
- Do not wait for symptoms to appear if bitten, seek immediate medical attention.
- Do not apply a tourniquet.
- Do not slash the wound with a knife.
- Do not suck out the venom.
- Do not apply ice or immerse the wound in water.
- Do not drink alcohol as a painkiller.
- Do not drink caffeinated beverages.
Bites from mammals can range from a barely-breaks-the-surface, playful bite from your cat to a full blown gash from an animal attacking or trying to defend itself. Apply first aid to the latter as you would with any other, paying specific attention to cleaning out the wound, itself.
1) Apply pressure to stop the bleeding.
2) Thoroughly wash and clean the wound immediately with soap and water. This is very important as animal bites are prone to infection.
3) Rinse clean and generously apply antibacterial ointment before covering with sterile dressings. Do NOT try to suture the wound closed as this could foster infection.
4) Seek medical attention ASAP for any wound worse than a superficial scratch given the risk of infection.
Take special note of the animal. If it is/was acting noticeably strange, staggering, circling, appeared disoriented or was convulsing tell medical personnel as it may be an indication of rabies. Treatments are very effective if started promptly.
Gastrointestinal (GI) illnesses are caused by a host of bacteria, viruses and parasites. They all cause distress along the gastrointestinal tract, that is the stomach on down (hence the name). This distress tends to cause either diarrhea, nausea or vomiting and for the unlucky person, all of the above. These illnesses spread easily, infecting a lot of people quickly. Given the general range of symptoms and mode of transmission, there are universal steps to follow to curtail their spread and help provide comfort to those dealing with the symptoms.
Hand washing is perhaps the best defense against these stomach bugs. Wash with hot water and soap scrubbing for at least 30 seconds, working fingertips and under nails.
Use latex-type gloves when caring for ill people and handling any of their waste.
Clean countertops and other surfaces with bleach-water solution or other commercial bleach-based cleaners.
Spread doesn’t always stop when symptoms do. A person recovering from norovirus, for instance, will continue shedding the virus for up to 2 weeks after symptoms have dissipated.
Treating for Diarrhea and Vomiting
1) Give as much fluid as the patient will tolerate to prevent dehydration.
2) Avoid caffeinated beverages.
3) Offer fluids with electrolytes (Gatorade, for example).
4) Try giving the patient easily digestible foods like crackers, oatmeal, rice, toast. Avoid fatty foods and dairy products.
5) If vomiting worsens, blood shows up in stool or if a fever starts, find a doctor.
If you and your family have been forced to bug-out, camping in the wilderness and have to drink natural sources of water, you can prevent contracting this type of illness by filtering water and boiling it before drinking. Taking those two steps will kill off virtually any organism that could cause a problem.
If you missed the previous article in this series, check out First Aid Part 1: Blisters, Burns & Nasty Wounds, First Aid Part 2: Sprains & Broken Bones & First Aid Part 3: Shock, Heatstroke & Hypothermia and get all the information on how to be prepared to administer successful first aid in any situation.