11 Jan 2019

Spike in searches for treating stings and bites over the holidays

3:19 pm on 11 January 2019

People have swarming to websites providing health advice for treating jellyfish stings, insect stings, and spider bites.

Girl with blond hair, sitting with his back turned and scratching bitten, red, swollen neck skin from mosquito bites in the summer in the forest.  Close-up up of visible insect bites. Irritated skin.

The number of people seeking help for bites and stings has shot up over the holidays. Photo: 123RF

In the two weeks from 16 December, more than 3700 people accessed Ministry of Health information about spider bites, and hits on jellyfish sting advice tripled compared to the weeks before.

The number of people reading about insect bites grew 73 percent, and wasp sting information was accessed 86 percent more times than in early December.

Deputy director of public health Niki Stefanogiannis said the annual spike marks the summer holiday rush into the outdoors, as more people visit beaches, parks and rivers, and come in contact with the critters in our environment.

Most stings and bites can usually be managed simply at home. But katipō, redback and white-tailed spider bites can be more harmful, and it is helpful to catch the spider, so medical staff know what they are dealing with in case treatment is needed.

In some extreme cases, bites from creepy crawlies do have the potential to turn nasty. They occasionally can lead to serious wounds, and even become life-threatening.

"For most people a sting or a bite is just a localised irritation, but some people can be quite sensitive and get a bit more swelling around the site, which could last for a few days," Ms Stefanogiannis said.

"And other people can even have a serious allergic reaction, or even anaphylaxis."

Anaphylaxis causes swelling in airways and can stop a person from breathing, so is very dangerous, she said.

"Those reactions are quite rare, but it's really important if you suspect someone is having an anaphylactic reaction, to call 111 so they can get immediate medical attention."

For less urgent cases, the Ministry website health.govt.nz, could help identify what caused a bite or sting, and what treatments could be use, she said.

Her top tips include wearing insect repellant outdoors in the evenings, being watchful of children near water where they can pick up jellyfish, staying well away from swarms of wasps or bees, and avoiding putting your hands into places spiders could be hiding.

"Just be aware of your environment, and check the regional council website near you, because they'll have information about jellyfish and beach conditions."