What and Why?
Bees, wasps, hornets and ants are warlike creatures that travel heavily armed: it’s best not to quarrel with them. Most smaller insects neither sting nor bite but probe you with a specialized hypodermic mouthpiece to feed from your blood. This is not just a summer holiday problem nowadays: insects thrive on central heating just as we do.
Insect ‘bites’ are not designed to irritate you, which would be very self-destructive on the insect’s part. Unfortunately for the insect, it must inject a trace of saliva to prevent your blood from clotting before it can be drawn. You react to this saliva within a day or two, with an itchy red inflammatory swelling which makes you aware of the culprit, whom you then set about deterring rather too late. Some enviable people are naturally repellent to insects. Some others who appear to be, may simply tolerate their bites, which is not quite so desirable.
Wasps, honey-bees, hornets and ants are rather different, as well as being much larger. They have no interest in feeding off you, and only sting in self-defence. That is unusual unless you unwisely try to swat one on your skin, tread or sit on one, or bite it on your apple. Bees flying about their business will not normally worry you provided they do not get tangled in your hair or clothing. But some hives are particularly aggressive, and may attack you if they scent or sense your fear.
The bee is not well adapted for hard-skinned opponents, and often cannot withdraw its sting; you may therefore see the insect trying to unscrew itself. The usual outcome is that the sting is left behind, complete with its venom-sac still pumping; the insect escapes, fatally wounded. Wasps do not have this problem, but are easily distinguished in any case by their larger size and brightly striped yellow bodies.
Dogs, cats and rodents are capable of inflicting quite serious injury, and may infect you through their toothmarks and scratches. Rabies is so far an exceedingly remote risk in Britain but should be thought of if the animal is particularly aggressive or salivating heavily. Tetanus is only an appreciable risk with a dirty wound that is deep and bleeds little, but a dog bite may serve to remind you to renew your immunization.
Jelly-fish and other sea creatures produce powerful venom which can hurt exceedingly. When large areas of skin are poisoned simultaneously the dose is large, and the accompanying shock may be severe.
Reaction to plants
Nettle-rash is very irritant, but only dangerous if it is very extensive.
The Giant Hog-weed produces an alarming reaction in some people. You will know if this affects you and know to seek prompt medical attention whenever you are exposed to it. On many others it produces a rather irritant rash which responds to the same treatment as nettle-rash.
What can I do?
Advice to maintain and maximise health
1. Do not use insect repellants impregnated with chemical insecticides. These accumulate in your body fat and can have serious long-term effects. Derris, pyrethrum, tobacco powder or crumpled cigarette ends make the basis of much safer alternatives for your garden, described in detail in L. D. Hills’ and Juliette de Bairacli Levi’s books. Sticky fly-papers are usually safe, but read their small print carefully.
2. Rosemary, rue, sage and summer savory are all very effective insect repellants. Use them in pots pourris or infused as a body lotion. Prepare for an out-door event on a still summer evening by burning any of these herbs in a dust-bin, with paper and a little paraffin.
3. Make a strong lotion of fresh elderflowers in spring and preserve it by mixing with an equal quantity of surgical spirit. Label it carefully ‘for external application only’, and keep it well away from children. This lotion is an excellent first aid for all insect bites and stings.
4. Treat animal bites as injuries.
5. Cover ant bites immediately with a crushed garlic clove or sliced onion; failing that wood ash, bicarbonate or saliva.
6. If a bee stings you, first give it a chance to remove its barb. If it fails, scrape the barb out yourself. Do not attempt to grasp it with tweezers or fingers; this usually squeezes the remaining venom out of the sac and into you. Suck out what you can, then dab the wound with white-wash (slaked lime), moistened wood ash, domestic ammonia or (failing all else) saliva. Take one tablet of homoeopathic Apis mel 30 every few minutes if you are in severe pain or shocked, especially if stung in your mouth. After an hour wash the alkali off your skin and dress it with a piece of bruised dock leaf or a sprig of parsley.
7. As soon as possible after a wasp sting, suck as much venom out of the wound as you can and dab it with vinegar. Take homoeopathic Arnica 6 or 30, repeating this every 15-30 minutes if the pain or shock is severe.
8. Give a jelly-fish victim homoeopathic Arnica or Bach Rescue Remedy immediately; then apply oil of wormwood, rue or rosemary, or a pulp of crushed sage or rue leaves in hot water. Otherwise bathe the rash with vinegar diluted with an equal amount of hot water.
9. For nettle stings take homoeopathic Urtica urens 3x every 2-4 hours, and rub the area with a dock leaf. Hog-weed may need medical attention.
10. Itchy bites respond to antihistamine medicines, but take time to do so if treatment has been delayed. If none of the above remedies is practical or satisfactory, use antihistamine tablets as soon as you are bitten. They may make you drowsy, or increase the effect of alcohol.
11. If a sting becomes red and starts to throb after a few days, it is probably infected with a germ. Try cold bathing, antiseptics and a firm bandage first, but seek antibiotic treatment if it gets worse or you become feverish.