|Bowsite Founder Pat Lefemine thought he had a good bugsuit but a dime size hole was enough for hundreds of black flies to find their way to the buffet during a spring bear hunt!.|
In our first article on medicine and bowhunting we will look at insect bites and stings. As bear and turkey season is fast approaching this seems like a timely introduction into this column. In future articles we will look at falls, cuts, hypothermia, altitude sickness, tendinitis and other topics of interest to bowhunters.
As anyone who has spent time hunting for spring bears knows, insects can be annoying. Unfortunately, in some cases bites and stings can go far beyond merely annoying and can actually be life threatening. Bees kill more people each year than all other venomous animals combined. Each year 50 -100 people die from bee stings. In comparison, 5 -15 people die from snake bites. With this in mind, we will look at prevention, treatment and long term consequences of bites and stings.
Black Flies and Mosquitoes
Black flies are the bane of many bear and caribou hunters in Canada and Alaska. Fortunately, in North America they do not transmit diseases to humans. Sheer numbers make black flies very difficult to escape and brief exposures can be very unpleasant. Adult female black flies feed exclusively on mammalian blood. The saliva of the fly is injected at the site of the bite and your body mounts an allergic response to the foreign substance. Within one hour after the bite the victim will notice intense itching, pain and localized swelling. Symptoms usually resolve within 24 hours although a reactive nodule(bump under the skin) can last for months.
Prevention is the name of the game with black flies. Fine mesh bug suits can be very helpful although you will need to tape the cuffs and neck holes to prevent entry through these openings. Chemical agents such as DEET are also very useful for black flies. DEET is the most effective insect repellent available. Unfortunately, DEET can be as toxic to you as it is to the bugs. DEET is absorbed through your skin and can cause reactions such as hives and central nervous system damage. It will eat the finish off your custom bow and dissolve plastics. When using DEET products you should never use a concentration above 35-50%. Most authorities recommend avoidance of more concentrated products. Studies have shown that 50% DEET is effective in jungle settings. Only apply DEET to exposed skin and wash it off each day at the completion of your activity. Antihistamines such as Benadryl can improve the pain and itching after you have been bitten although some of these agents will make you drowsy. There are now newer antihistamines that do not cause drowsiness which can be prescribed by your physician.
Especially during Spring Bear season, using bug suits and taping the cuffs and collars is very important. The person standing in the middle had holes in his bugsuit and you can see what happened after just one evenings hunt because of it.
Mosquitoes are also a major problem for those of us who love the outdoors. As all of you know, mosquitoes can be very annoying and make it difficult to sit quietly on stand. Adult females need a blood meal to reproduce. That's where you come in! Unfortunately, while black flies do not carry human diseases, mosquitoes transmit many fatal diseases. In North America the major problem is encephalitis which is an infection of your brain tissue. This is typically viral and not treatable with the usual antibiotics. Every year there are outbreaks of encephalitis which is transmitted by mosquitoes. It is rare but can be deadly. If you are lucky enough to travel to third world countries to bow hunt you should be aware that mosquitoes can transmit malaria, yellow fever and dengue.
With mosquitoes prevention is the way to go. Fortunately, methods that work for black flies also are effective on mosquitoes. Clothing treated with permethrin will also repel mosquitoes but not black flies. This is available in a spray can which can be applied to your hunting clothes. Treatment after the bites is usually with antihistamines as previously discussed. Topical agents such as After Bite* contain Ammonium Hydroxide which is useful for 1 or 2 bites. For more serious infections medical care is needed.
Bees, Wasps, and Hornets
Probably everyone has been stung by a bee at one time or another. While you may have difficulty differentiating a bee from a hornet, everyone knows when they have gotten stung. These insects tend to sting when provoked and if you inadvertently stumble onto a nest or hang your stand in a tree with a hive you will quickly be very sorry. These insects have stingers which are designed to inject venom into their victim. This venom isn't designed to kill the intruder but merely to discourage further contact. Honeybees are the only species that leave their stinger in your skin. This is because they have a barbed stinger. As they disengage from your skin the venom sack and stinger tears away from the bee's body leading to the bee's death. Wasps and hornets do not have a barbed stinger and can sting you multiple times. They do not die after stinging you. After you have been stung you should always inspect the site to see if a stinger is remaining. If so, you know that it was a honeybee that got you. The stinger will continue to inject venom over the next 20 minutes and should immediately be removed. You should scrape out the stinger with a fingernail or your knife blade. Grasping the stinger will inject the remainder of the venom. Bee venom in small quantities is mainly an irritant which causes a localized inflammatory response. Most bee stings can be treated by removal of the stinger and antihistamines. Ice packs and steroid creams such as 1% hydrocortisone can also decrease local skin symptoms. If you were unfortunate enough to be stung 100's of times the venom could kill you (remember those killer bee movies!) but this is not what kills most people. Allergic reactions to bee stings are how people die. Unfortunately, people are usually unaware of their allergy and can not take precautions. Only about 25% of people with severe allergic reactions have a previous history of insect stings. People who have a severe local reaction to bee stings are more prone to life threatening reactions with future stings. If you know that you have an allergy to bee stings there is a self injectable form of adrenaline in a kit that you should carry with you at all times. If you are stung you should immediately use the adrenaline and take an antihistamine. This will buy you some time to seek medical care. One of these kits should be in your fanny pack, car etc. Your hunting partner should also be familiar with it's use.
Most insect bites and stings are annoyance rather than a medical emergency. Prevention can go a long way toward solving these problems. Typically treatment is straight forward and well within the abilities of the average bow hunter. For more serious reactions you should seek medical care.