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Insects and stings in the countryside: what to do if you have young children?

Insects and stings in the countryside: what to do if you have young children?

Summer is undoubtedly associated with children’s carefree holidays in the countryside. But little insects are enough to ruin your mood during a carefree day in the open air...

How can we avoid insect bites?
Bees are usually not aggressive unless they are attacked or injured. One of the most common causes of bee stings is children standing barefoot on a bee. Because of this it is a good idea for children never to go barefoot, especially in a garden with flowers, grass or clover which are all favourites with bees.

Wasps and insects that look like them prefer to nest in other places such as shrubs, tree foliage, wall recesses and underneath roofs.

It is advisable to check these places frequently before letting children play there.

Remember that insects that bite are attracted by the smell of food or soft drinks. It is a good idea to avoid having a picnic anywhere close to rubbish bins and to avoid leaving food or soft drinks open and exposed for a long time.  Insects are also attracted to toilet waters, perfumes or hair products, e.g. hairspray.

After someone is bitten or stung
If, despite all this, your child is stung by an insect, do not panic. Most of the time he/she will be fine in just a little while.

  • It's good to know what stung him/her, but if he/she cannot tell you, then try to spot where the insect bit your child and see if there is a sting in the skin. If you see a black point protruding, it is the sting.
  • Do not try to pull it out using force because you might end up pushing it in deeper.
  • Try to remove it gently using sterilised tweezers. Otherwise just remove it by gently pushing it with clean hands.

If despite all this it still will not come out, leave it and go to the chemist or the doctor. Whatever happens, clean the area where ​​the sting is with lukewarm water and put some ice on it if it is swollen.

  • You can repeat this using antiseptic ointment or ammonia. It is perfectly normal for there to be slight swelling, pain, slight itching and redness in the area.
  • The condition may be more severe if the child was bit several times.
  • If your child is allergic:

Keep an eye on your child for a few hours after he/she was bit by an insect to see if he/she is feeling dizzy or hoarse, or if the swelling gets worse and your child starts itching elsewhere on his/her body. In this case, contact a doctor immediately because he/she is likely to be having an allergic reaction to the poison. This can happen any time from a few minutes after being stung, up to 24 hours later.

If your child has previously had an allergic reaction to a sting you should take him/her to a doctor or hospital as soon as possible.

If you know your child is allergic, you should consult the pediatrician immediately and always carry a small portable first aid kit with cortisone ointment or a cortisone injection, gel or ammonia paste or even an adrenaline injection.

Scorpion, centipede and snake bites

In normal circumstances it is very unusual to be bitten by any of these animals, and it is possible to avoid this happening if children are properly supervised.

Scorpions and centipedes are found under large stones and in high grass.

If someone is bitten by a scorpion or a centipede they will feel intense pain and the site will swell up badly. You should do the same in these cases as you would for other insect bites, i.e.

  • clean the wound,
  • apply an ointment,
  • take your child to a doctor or chemist
  • Snake bites

Fortunately, in Greece there is little risk of being bitten by a snake as most of the snakes here are not the poisonous species found in tropical areas.

The most dangerous snake found in Greece is the viper. Viper poison can be lethal, but if the child is taken to the hospital immediately the condition can be treated successfully.

If a snake bites your child you should:

  • Clean the wound with water and soap.
  • Do not use ice on any swelling as it is likely to worsen the condition.
  • keep the limb which has been bitten still, and keep it lower than the heart.
  • Go to a hospital or doctor as soon as possible. Many poisons are powerful neurotoxins and can act relatively quickly.
  • If you cannot get to the hospital quickly, tie a bandage a little higher than the site of the bite to slow the rate the venom spreads through the body. The bandage should not be very tight to ensure that it does not stop the blood circulating.
  • In any circumstance, it is essential to keep calm and to treat the injury promptly.

What you should always have with you if you are going for a walk in the countryside:
A small portable first-aid kit containing:

  • cotton - hydrogen peroxide - iodine - a small, clean tweezer
  • Ointment containing ammonia, for all kinds of bites.
  • cortisone ointment, for allergies
  • cortisone and adrenaline injections (after the necessary advice from the pediatrician)
  • pills to bring down fever

When your child is still very young, it is also a good idea not to go far away from urban areas where you can find immediate medical attention.So, with a little care and foresight, holidays in the countryside can be unforgettable and enjoyable for both adults and children!  

Eliza Ferekidou
Dr. Biologist
Health Services Research Centre