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Thursday, July 9, 2009

Summer's Unloved Visitors

by Naomi Black

Summer brings with it a host of spiders, insects, bugs and snakes, which are generally regarded as unwanted visitors in our homes and yards. Actually, less than 2 percent of insects are harmful; but that small percent should be taken seriously. Whether they are spreading disease or causing us pain, it is good to remind ourselves about these unwanted visitors and what we can do to protect our homes and families.

The Black Widow Spider is considered the most venomous spider in North America. Only the female is dangerous to humans. However, her venom is 15 times more toxic than an equal amount of rattlesnake venom! If it was not for this potent venom, the black widow would be considered a welcome guest as she preys on cockroaches, earwigs and crickets.

The adult female may reach over an inch in length and is identified by her shiny black and bulbous abdomen with its famous hourglass design. In the summer, after mating (and possibly making a meal of the male!) the female will begin constructing egg sacs, each containing up to 250 eggs.

There’s no reason to panic if bitten by a black widow, since often she will not even inject venom into the bite. According to statistics, death from a black widow bite is extremely unlikely. It is best to wash the wound well with soap and water to prevent infection. The very young or old should see a doctor. Otherwise, if muscle cramps, spasms or severe pain develops, there is medical treatment available to care for these symptoms. Black widow spider antivenin is available but seldom necessary.

Another unwelcome guest in the Northern Baja area is the Baja Recluse (Brown Recluse) Spider. These spiders have six (rather than the typical eight) eyes, arranged in a horseshoe pattern in three clusters of two eyes each. They are known for their necrotic bite, which means their venom contains a potent tissue-destroying agent. A true brown recluse bite may cause chills, fever, nausea, muscle pain and flu-like symptoms along with blisters. These become open sores which take up to 45 days to heal. If they become infected it can create serious complications and severe scarring.

Oftentimes minor skin irritations are mistaken for spider bites. Remember, even in homes where brown recluses have been found, seldom have the occupants experienced a bite. Many bites will cause just a little red mark that heals without event, and 90 percent of brown recluse bites heal without severe scarring.

Sometime this summer you will probably hear that familiar hum of a Mosquito. There are approximately 2,700 species of these pests and they use keen chemical, visual and heat sensors to locate their prey (that would be you!). They are attracted to heat, light, perspiration, body odor, lactic acid and carbon dioxide.

Only female mosquitoes bite. She sticks a very sharp, thin proboscis into your skin and sucks your blood into her abdomen. Her saliva has an agent that prevents your blood from clotting, and this saliva makes your body’s immune system respond by creating a “wheal” or swollen bump around the bitten area. Swelling soon departs leaving an itch that remains until your immune cells break down her saliva’s proteins.

To treat mosquito bites, wash the area with soap and water. Avoid scratching the area. Anti-itch medicines such as Calamine or Cortisone creams will relieve the itching. You probably don’t need to seek medical attention (unless you feel dizzy or nauseated, which indicates an allergic reaction).

It is reassuring to know that the HIV virus cannot survive in a mosquito and, therefore, cannot be transmitted by mosquitoes. However, mosquitoes do carry other serious diseases. One of these is dengue fever, which has no vaccine available and has symptoms of headache, fever, exhaustion, joint and muscle pain. In September of 2008, the Sonoran newspaper El Imparcial reported that, at that time for the 2008 year, there had been 23 confirmed cases of dengue fever in the state of Sonora. However, all 23 people had been restored to good health.

Another common visitor to your home is the Bark Scorpion, which is found throughout Arizona, California, Baja California Norte, Baja California Sur and Sonora. They may be three inches long and is the only scorpion that does not burrow, but lives above ground and climbs. They live in palm trees and any rocky crevices, and can easily climb block or stucco. They need only a one-sixteenth-inch crack to enter your home! Scorpions feed on other insect and, thus, are attracted to outdoor lights where they will find these insects.

The venom of the bark scorpion may produce severe pain at the site of the sting. Generally, the most severe symptoms are numbness, difficulties in breathing, muscle twitching and convulsions. Some people are allergic to the venom and there is an antivenin available.

Our last unloved and unwelcome visitor is the venomous snake! Sonora and the Northern Baja have venomous Rattlesnakes and Sidewinders. Usually rattlesnakes give us plenty of warning as they rattle away! Only about 75 percent of rattlesnake bites will have any venom injected into the bite. And of the approximately 8,000 people who are bit each year (statistics from the U.S.) about 5 persons will die.

My uncle once got “snake-bit” on a gold mining expedition. He drank a bottle of whiskey and went to sleep. He claims he woke up a few days later feeling fine . . . While I definitely would NEVER recommend this “treatment,” it does seem that treating a venomous snake bite is controversial and recommended procedures vary. However, according to the American Red Cross, the bite area should be washed with clean water and soap. The bite area should be immobilized and kept lower than the heart, and medical help should be sought immediately. Most all professionals agree that it is NOT wise to apply ice, tourniquets, or make an incision in the area.

Summer is a great time to enjoy the outdoors. Those long days of summer may find us in an entertaining mood. But with some forethought, we can make sure that we do not invite these unloved and unwelcome guests into our lives!

GENERAL SAFETY MEASURES TO DISCOURAGE ALL UNWELCOME GUESTS:
  • Keep all debris and trash cleaned up outdoors.
  • Keep grass and shrubs trimmed or cut short.
  • Stack wood far from your home.
  • Do not have standing
  • water on your property.
  • Use gloves when doing yard work.
  • Be careful when picking
  • up any objects that have been sitting for awhile.
  • Do not bring items from outdoors inside without thoroughly cleaning them first.
  • Check your home for cracks and crevices and seal them when found.
  • Keep window screens tightly in place.
  • Seal doors with weather stripping.
  • Vacuum and mop your home often.
  • Keep all clothing and
  • other “clutter” off the floor.
  • Always check shoes and gloves before putting
  • them on.
  • Remove spider webs and egg sacs.
  • Always be alert . . .
  • Use appropriate pest control and/or pesticides
  • as directed.
  • Use mosquito repellant
  • (it is recommended that it contains DEET).