Insect Bites and Stings
6-5. Insect Bites/Stings
An insect bite or sting can cause great pain, allergic reaction,
inflammation, and infection. If not treated correctly, some bites/stings
may cause serious illness or even death. When an allergic reaction is not
involved, first aid is a simple process. In any case, medical personnel
should examine the casualty at the earliest possible time. It is important
to properly identify the spider, bee, or creature that caused the bite/sting
especially in cases of allergic reaction when death is a possibility.
a. Types of Insects. The insects found throughout the world
that can produce a bite or sting are too numerous to mention in detail.
Commonly encountered stinging or biting insects include brown recluse
spiders (Figure 6-9), black widow spiders (Figure 6-10), tarantulas (Figure
6-11), scorpions (Figure 6-12), urticating caterpillars, bees, wasps centipedes, conenose beetles (kissing bugs), ants, and wheel bugs. Upon
being reassigned, especially to overseas areas, take the time to become
acquainted with the types of insects to avoid.
b. Signs/Symptoms. Discussed in paragraphs (1) and (2) below
are the most common effects of insect bites/stings. They can occur alone
or in combination with the others.
(1) Less serious. Commonly seen signs/symptoms are pain,
irritation, swelling, heat, redness, and itching. Hives or wheals (raised
areas of the skin that itch) may occur. These are the least severe of the
allergic reactions that commonly occur from insect bites/stings. They are
usually dangerous only if they affect the air passages (mouth, throat
nose, and so forth), which could interfere with breathing. The bites/stings
of bees, wasps, ants, mosquitoes, fleas, and ticks are usually not serious
and normally produce mild and localized symptoms. A tarantula's bite is
usually no worse than that of a bee sting. Scorpions are rare and their
stings (except for a specific species found only in the Southwest desert)
are painful but usually not dangerous.
(2) Serious. Emergency allergic or hypersensitive reactions
sometimes result from the stings of bees, wasps, and ants. Many people
are allergic to the venom of these particular insects. Bites or stings from
these insects may produce more serious reactions, to include generalized
itching and hives, weakness, anxiety, headache, breathing difficulties,
nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Very serious allergic reactions (called
anaphylactic shock) can lead to complete collapse, shock, and even death.
Spider bites (particularly from the black widow and brown recluse
spiders) can be serious also. Venom from the black widow spider affects
the nervous system. This venom can cause muscle cramps, a rigid,
nontender abdomen, breathing difficulties, sweating, nausea and
vomiting. The brown recluse spider generally produces local rather than
system-wide problems; however, local tissue damage around the bite can
be severe and can lead to an ulcer and even gangrene.
c. First Aid. There are certain principles that apply regardless
of what caused the bite/sting. Some of these are:
- If there is a stinger present, for example, from a bee
remove the stinger by scraping the skin's surface with a fingernail or
knife. DO NOT squeeze the sac attached to the stinger because it may
inject more venom.
- Wash the area of the bite/sting with soap and water
(alcohol or an antiseptic may also be used) to help reduce the chances of
an infection and remove traces of venom.
- Remove jewelry from bitten extremities because swelling
is common and may occur.
- In most cases of insect bites the reaction will be mild and
localized; use ice or cold compresses (if available) on the site of the
bite/sting. This will help reduce swelling, ease the pain, and slow the
absorption of venom. Meat tenderizer (to neutralize the venom) or
calamine lotion (to reduce itching) may be applied locally. If necessary,
seek medical aid.
- In more serious reactions (severe and rapid swelling,
allergic symptoms, and so forth) treat the bite/sting like you would treat
a snakebite; that is, apply constricting bands above and below the site.
See paragraph 6-2c(1) above for details and illustration (Figure 6-8) of a constricting band.
- * Be prepared to perform basic lifesaving measures, such as rescue breathing.
- Reassure the casualty and keep him calm.
- In serious reactions, attempt to capture the insect for
positive identification; however, be careful not to become a casualty
- If the reaction of symptoms appear serious, seek medical
Insect bites/stings may cause anaphylactic
shock (a shock caused by a severe allergic
reaction). This is a life-threatening event
and a MEDICAL EMERGENCY! Be
immediately transport the casualty to a
Be aware that some allergic or hypersensitive
individuals may carry identification (such
MEDIC ALERT tag) or emergency insect bite
treatment kits. If the casualty is
allergic reaction and has such a kit, administer
the medication in the kit
according to the
instructions which accompany the kit.
d. Prevention. Some prevention principles are:
- Apply insect repellent to all exposed skin, such as the
ankles to prevent insects from creeping between uniform and boots. Also
apply the insect repellent to the shoulder blades where the shirt fits tight
enough that mosquitoes bite through. DO NOT apply insect repellent to
- Reapply repellent every 2 hours during strenuous activity and
soon after stream crossings.
- Blouse the uniform inside the boots to further reduce risk.
- Wash yourself daily if the tactical situation permits. Pay
particular attention to the groin and armpits.
- Use the buddy system. Check each other for insect bites.
- Wash your uniform at least weekly.
e. Supplemental Information. For additional information concerning
biting insects, see FM 8-230 and FM 21-10.
Back to First Aid for Bites and Stings