Bites and stings: how to treat mosquitoes, bees, ants, spiders and dogs

Kinderling News & Features

Our beautiful country is full of beautiful creatures. It’s also full of annoying, aggressive and poisonous animals too. So when kids are around, we have to be prepared.

We asked CPR KidsSarah Hunstead for her advice for preventing bites and stings from the animal kingdom, and how to treat them.

Mosquitoes

“One thing that I do know is that it can be tricky to prevent being bitten by them!” Sarah says.

In summer heat, we don’t normally want to wear long sleeves or pants, but Sarah says that is the best way to deter them. They’re even more essential if you’re living in the northern parts of Australia where there might be Ross River fever, or going overseas where there’s dengue fever.

Apparently mosquitoes are attracted to dark colours, so lighter colours are best.

Another option is to keep a fan on at night. “A fan can confuse mosquitoes because it scatters your scent,” Sarah says. Plus there’s the added benefit of the fan blocking out their annoying whine!

Listen to Sarah on Kinderling Conversation:

As for repellents on bare skin, these range in strength.

“If you’re going to an area where there is dengue, or other mosquito-borne viruses are prevalent, using a good mosquito repellent that contains DEET* is important,” Sarah recommends. She personally doesn’t like putting DEET on her kids and avoids it as much as possible. But to feel a bit safer there is great resource on the Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne’s website that explains how much DEET is in certain products and what you need to put on your child.

For more natural options, there’s citronella and tea tree, which Sarah uses in wristbands, with one on wrist and one on ankle.

If kids do get bitten, the bite can swell as well as itch, so a Sarah recommends a face washer with an ice block inside to help with those itchy signals going to the brain. If there’s significant swelling, head to the pharmacist or the GP so see if an antihistamine is needed.

Calamine lotion, paw paw and various other creams help with itching. Avoid very harsh ones that may have anaesthetic in them because that can be irritating to the skin. Also make sure look for infection signs like a fever, hot skin, pus and extreme, red inflammation. If there is infection, see a medical professional.

Bee stings

While wasp and bee stings cause a lot of pain, they can usually be managed at home.

“You need to remove the bee sting quickly,” Sarah says. “It’s not so much about the way you take it out - it’s the speed that you do It with. We just want to remove it as quickly as possible.”

Once again, a cold pack or cold face washer will help plus paracetamol if necessary. Clean the area with warm soapy water, then put a cream or lotion of choice on top to soothe the area (maybe a lollipop too!).

“The only thing that we need to really think about and be hyper-vigilant about is if your child has anaphylaxis,” Sarah warns. Anaphylaxis is a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction that comes on very quickly and requires an EpiPen. If you don’t know if your child will have an anaphylactic reaction to a bee sting, or if you don’t have an EpiPen, you need to perform CPR.

“If they were to collapse, what you need to do is go through DRS ABCD, and that’s what helps save lives,” Sarah says.

Bull ants

These little suckers hurt! Again, you need to wash area, put a cold pack on top, take pain relief and watch for allergic reactions.

As well as bull ants, we also have jack jumper ants here in Australia. Their defence mechanism is injecting highly irritating venom and many Australians are highly allergic, Sarah says.

This is another case where CPR will be very important if there’s an allergic reaction.

Spiders

We have many types of spiders in Australia, many of which are poisonous.  

Others like funnel web spiders are deadly and should be avoided at all costs. While they’re fast moving, they don’t necessarily want to munch on you, Sarah says. “Actually, they’re just as afraid of us as we are of them. The males can apparently get a little bit aggressive while they’re searching for a female.”

If in a funnel web area, and your child is bitten by something you suspect is a funnel web bite, use a pressure immobilisation bandage which is firm and heavy. Wrap around the tip of the bitten limb, overlap it halfway and keep winding up to top of limb. Make sure your child is nice and still, seek help and be ready to start DRS ABCD.

Anti-venoms have been developed for spiders, so try to identify the type to tell your doctor.

Dogs

We should always supervise kids when they’re around animals, but we also need to teach kids how to interact with dogs, cats, other animals.

“I have seen many, many dog bites on kids and it’s often been where the child has not intentionally provoked the dog,” Sarah says. Normally kids have tried to be loving, but have been too close to the animal’s face or pulled their tail, but it’s irritated the animal to the point where they feel like they need to defend themselves.

For superficial scratches, wash, use antiseptic cream and watch for signs of infection.

However, if it’s broken the skin, Sarah advises seeking medical help. Often this will need a tetanus shot and potentially a course of antibiotics as well. Wounds like this can definitely get infected, so make sure you’re up to date with immunisations.

*DEET is N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide or diethyltoluamide, a common active ingredient in insect repellents.