The desert is full of creepy critters, and residents of the valley are no strangers to insect bites. While bites often are harmless, in some cases they can lead to serious medical conditions.
If you’ve been bitten by something venomous and require antivenom, a potentially lifesaving treatment administered by hospitals, time is of the essence, said Bruce Thielke, Pharmacy Operations Supervisor at Southern Hills Hospital and Medical Center. Knowing how to identify dangerous insect bites from benign ones is important.
As a general rule, if you have been bitten and start running a fever, feel disoriented or vomit, you need to seek emergency medical treatment immediately. If your symptoms are troublesome but mild, call poison control first.
If you’re stung by a bark scorpion
Bark scorpions tend to travel in packs, so if you find one, others may be lurking nearby. Bark scorpions are nonaggressive unless provoked and are nocturnal, so they typically seek dark places to rest during the day. They often are found inside walls, woodpiles, garbage cans, bed sheets and shoes.
Scorpions are arachnids, related to ticks and spiders, and come in many sizes and colors. There are multiple scorpion species in Nevada. Most are not dangerous, but some can be deadly. The scorpion you’ll most likely encounter in the valley is the bark scorpion.
A bark scorpion sting feels similar to a wasp or hornet sting, but scorpions release neurotoxins that affect the nervous system. The sensation of the sting has been compared to a mild electric shock. Symptoms usually last 24 to 72 hours and rarely are serious, unless the person stung is allergic.
- Symptoms: Numbness and tingling, nausea and vomiting, shortness of breath
- Serious symptoms: Numbness, frothing at the mouth, paralysis, seizure-like symptoms
- Children who are stung always should seek immediate medical attention. Acute care hospitals will be able to supply Anascorp, an intravenous antivenom for the treatment of a scorpion sting. This treatment can resolve clinical toxicity within four hours after treatment.
If you’re bitten by a desert recluse spider
Nearly identical to the brown recluse, desert recluses are found in Southern Nevada. The most distinctive aspect of a desert recluse is a dark, violin-shaped mark on the upper body near the eyes.
Desert recluses bite only when they feel threatened — for instance, by being accidentally pressed against a person’s skin. In some cases, recluse bites can cause tissue damage and can be extremely serious, but they typically do not require medical attention.
The spider's bites usually are painless. Symptoms develop two to eight hours afterward. A red or purplish blister may appear. Sometimes, an ulcerous sore can form as the surrounding tissue dies; those can take months to heal.
- Serious symptoms that require medical attention: Blistering, redness or pain at the site of the bite, fever, nausea and vomiting, severe itching, death of the skin surrounding the bite
- Allergic reactions are serious, require medical attention and typically appear within 30 minutes of a bite.
If you’re bitten by a black widow
If you’ve been bitten by a black widow, seek emergency medical attention immediately. Wrap ice in a washcloth and place it on the bite area. Leave it on the bite for 10 minutes, then off for 10 minutes, and repeat until you arrived at the hospital where doctors can administer antivenom medication. If it’s possible to do so safely, bring the spider to the hospital for positive identification.
Being bitten by a black widow can be painless, or it can feel like a pinprick. Symptoms typically begin 15 minutes to an hour after the bite and are systemic, meaning they are felt throughout the body. If the bite occurs on the upper body, pain likely would be concentrated in your chest. If the bite is on your lower body, you’ll likely feel the most pain in your abdomen.
The spiders rarely bite, typically only if they feel threatened. They’re often found in barns, sheds, garages, woodpiles, fences or porch furniture. Female black widows are all black except for signature red, orange or yellow hourglass marks. Males do not bite.
- Other symptoms: Redness, tenderness and a nodule at the bite site, difficulty breathing, muscle cramps, rigidity or dull pain and aches, nausea and vomiting, seizure, rise in blood pressure headache
If you’re bitten by a tick
When a tick bites, it buries into your skin and sucks your blood for a period of time, usually a couple of days or weeks. The parasites prefer warm, moist areas of the body, such as the armpits, groin and head.
Bites typically are discovered with the tick still attached to the skin. Usually, bites are harmless, though you must carefully remove the tick in its entirety using tweezers. Occasionally, ticks can spread more serious diseases such as Lyme disease or Colorado tick fever. They also can cause allergic reactions.
Ticks typically live in high grass, bushes, trees and shrubs and can move between people and pets.
To remove one, grasp it with tweezers and pull it out slowly. Do not twist it or use Vaseline, nail polish remover or other commonly suggested home products. They could cause the tick to struggle and vomit fluids into the bite. Be sure to remove all parts of the tick and clean immediately.
- Possible symptoms: A red rash (particularly one in a circular pattern that resembles a bullseye; that indicates exposure to Lyme disease), neck stiffness, fever or chills, aches, weakness, headache or nausea, swollen lymph nodes
Help is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week from the American Association of Poison Control Centers at 800-222-1222.