Bees, wasps and ants are often the cause of bites during the British summer. Less common are spider bites, while bites are also possible from mosquitoes, fleas, flies, bedbugs and harvest mites.
Unless a person has an allergy to insect bites, the symptoms are usually itching, swelling and discomfort.
However, on holiday abroad, mosquitoes may transmit diseases such as West Nile virus, dengue, malaria and encephalitis.
For people allergic to insect or spider bites, these bites can cause severe trauma and even life-threatening anaphylactic shock. Also, the bites of a few spiders, ticks and insects are poisonous or associated with specific diseases.
Ticks. While most tick bites are harmless, several species can cause life-threatening diseases such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease. Ticks may also transmit tularaemia, relapsing fever, and a potentially fatal ailment called ehrlichiosis. On rare occasions, a bite may trigger tick paralysis, which starts with numbness and pain in the legs and can result in respiratory failure.
Spiders. Bites are seldom fatal; infants, the elderly and people with allergies are at greatest risk. In the UK, the most dangerous is the false widow spider, now found in southern England, but originally from the Canary Islands. The bite itself can pass unnoticed, but within hours, intense pain, tingling and burning sensations may begin, occasionally followed by muscle spasms, abdominal pain, chills, nausea and heart problems.
The bite of a funnel spider is painless but may cause a spreading, necrotising (tissue-killing) wound. Occasionally, reactions to a funnel spider bite include raised temperature, chills, joint pain and convulsions.
There are no recorded deaths from any spider bites in the UK, however in most other parts of the world, some spider bites can be dangerous or fatal if left untreated.
Scorpions. Scorpion stings cause a sharp, burning pain, followed by numbness. In a small number of cases, scorpion venom produces shock, or even a life-threatening syndrome of rapid breathing, difficulty speaking and muscle spasm. Fewer than 1% of stings are fatal; these are usually with very young and elderly victims.
Fire ants. Although not found in the UK, fire ants produce small, fluid-filled bites that may ulcerate. The ants bite into the skin and then sting repeatedly in an arc around the bite. The venom is capable of causing severe reactions and even, in some cases, death. Most incidences of bites are in North America and Mexico.
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