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Warning signs that bug bite is more severe than you think

Family Health
Apr 4, 2019

Also, when you should treat at home versus going to the doctor or emergency room following a snake or spider bite

Mosquitoes are pesky and their bites can be itchy, but they also can lead to infection and disease. Bugs, including mosquitoes, ticks and some flies, can spread diseases such as Zika, West Nile and Lyme disease.

On top of that, there are some venomous snakes and spiders that are commonly found in our area. Keep them in mind because their bites can be serious enough to cause death.  

Caitlin Young is a family nurse practitioner with St. Joseph’s/Candler Primary Care located in Pooler. She’s treated various bites and also is a lifelong avid hunter and fisher. Most bites can be monitored at home or treated with medicine or vaccine. 

However, prevention is key, Young says.

“The No. 1 thing you can do is use bug spray. No. 2 is your attire and make sure your entire body is covered.”

Just like you buy a sunblock with at least SPF 30, there’s a number you should look for on the bottle of your bug spray. DEET, or diethyltoluamide, is the most common active ingredient in insect repellents. The higher the DEET, the more likely the spray will repel bugs. Young recommends at least 25 percent DEET to keep bugs and ticks away.

Caitlin Young

If you still get bitten, there are symptoms you can look for and warning signs that you may need a trip to your primary care physician or even the emergency department. Let’s break it down by species:

Mosquitoes and other insect bites

Bites from mosquitoes and other insects, such as bees and fire ants, can lead to an infection or allergic reaction. You should watch your skin for rash, redness around the site or a burning sensation, Young says.

“Most of the time, these symptoms can be treated at home,” Young says. “When you should be worried and seek medical attention is when other symptoms start to develop – the site isn’t healing, pain is spreading, you get fever or chills.”

Also, if the site of the bite starts to drain any yellowish fluids, you should go see your physician. There are antibiotics that can help rid the infection, Young says.

If symptoms include a reaction that causes swelling to the throat or eyes, severe headache or joint pain, that’s when you should seek emergent care, Young says.

“They can diagnose you right away, clean the wound and get you started on treatment,” Young says.

Mosquitoes also may carry potentially fatal viruses, such as Zika or West Nile. West Nile was found in mosquitoes in Chatham County just last year.

Symptoms of West Nile also are symptoms of the flu: fever, headache and body aches. Especially if you feel those symptoms in the summer, you should check for recent mosquito bites and talk to your primary care physician.

What to do if bit:

  • Clean the area of the bite
  • Monitor the bite site from home
  • If symptoms worsen or if there’s drainage from the site, go see your primary care physician
  • If the reaction causes swelling, especially to the throat or eyes, seek emergent care


Ticks carry diseases that can not only affect our pets but also us. The most commonly known are Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

Lyme disease is a common concern in our area. It is spread by the blacklegged tick (or deer tick), which are commonly found in wooded areas.

It can take several hours for a tick to attach and even weeks before symptoms begin, Young says. In general, ticks need to be attached for 36 to 48 hours before they can transmit Lyme disease. The sooner the tick is found and removed, the better.

You can do this by getting in the habit of searching your body for ticks after coming in from outside, Young says. Check for ticks by:

  • Showering as soon as possible;
  • doing a full-body tick check in a full-length mirror; and
  • especially looking in the ears, belly button, behind the knees and hair.

If you discover a tick on yourself or someone else, use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible and pull upward with steady, even pressure. Do not twist or jerk the tick so you do not risk leaving any part of the tick still attached.

Symptoms of diseases spread by ticks also are similar to the flu including fever/chills, headache, fatigue and rash. If you experience these symptoms, you should see your primary care physician.

You also can pay attention to the bite area, Young says. For example, if the lesion begins to take the form of a bullseye, or “target”, that is a sign of Lyme disease. Severe joint pain also is a sign of tick-borne illnesses. Seek emergent care if you experience either of these symptoms.

What to do if bit:

  • Clean and monitor the bite site
  • If you experience symptoms similar to the flu, see your primary care provider
  • If the bite site starts to look like a bullseye or you experience severe joint pain, seek emergent care


This area is known to be home to both non-venomous and venomous snakes. The best defense against a snake bite is common sense. Most snake bites result from startling, handling or harassing snakes.

“The main thing with snakes is being aware of your environment and watching before you take a step or stick your hand in a questionable place,” Young says. “If you do come in contact with one, back up slowly and don’t make any sudden movements where it becomes scared of you and strikes at you.”

If you do get bit by a snake, go straight to the emergency department, Young says. And, do not bring the snake with you. Medical professionals can observe you for signs of a venomous snake bite, which include redness, swelling, bleeding, nausea, low blood pressure and shock. Antivenin (also known antivenom) is kept at both St. Joseph’s Hospital and Candler Hospital emergency departments to treat snake bites.

What to do if bit:

  • Go straight to the emergency department
  • Do not bring the snake with you


The majority of spiders in the United States are not venomous, but there are two in particular that can be a threat: the black widow and brown recluse. As the latter’s name suggest, spider bites can be difficult to diagnosis because they are so reclusive.

Signs of a spider bite include swelling, redness, pain around the bite and rash. Most spider bites can be treated at home by applying ice and watching for infection. If symptoms continue over several days, you should go see your doctor, Young says. Topical and/or oral antibiotics can treat the bite.

Black widows, however, are a different story. Their bites are more severe because they have a neurotoxin in them that results in terrible muscle aches and even stops your breathing. If you know you were bitten by a black widow, you should immediately go to the emergency department.

Spiders, snakes and bugs – even the non-venomous ones – are not very popular with most people, but part of living alongside these creatures is understanding that they aren’t here to harm us.

“Take the proper steps to avoid exposure to bites by wearing proper clothing and using repellent,” Young says. “That way they are not bothering us and we are not bothering them and all is well in our environment.” 

What to do if bit:

  • Clean the bite site
  • Apply ice and monitor the site
  • If symptoms worsen, go see your primary care physician
  • If you know it was a bite from a black widow or brown recluse spider, seek emergent care

Looking for a nurse practitioner or primary care physician in Pooler? Book an appointment with Caitlin Young or Primary Care Physician Dr. Knar Mesrobian online now.

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