Article: First Aid for Bites & Stings


First Aid For Bites and Stings
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Animals and insects do not usually attack unless injured or provoked.  Many bites and stings can be prevented by using common sense.  For example, take sensible precautions before attempting to rescue a casualty from an angry dog or a swarm of bees.  Call help or contact the emergency service, if needed.

Insect and marine stings are often minor injuries that can usually be treated with first aid alone.  However, animal and human bites always require medical attention, as germs are harboured in the mouths of all animals.  Snake bites carry the additional risk of poisoning.  In cases of bite wounds, the casualty must be protected from serious infections such as tetanus and rabies.

Animal Bites

Germs are harboured in the mouths of all animals and humans.  Bites from sharp, pointed teeth cause deep puncture wounds that carry germs deep into the tissues.  Human bites also crush the tissues.  Serious wounds require hospital treatment.  Any bite in which the skin is broken requires immediate first aid, followed by medical attention.  These wounds are very susceptible to infection.

Treatment of Superficial Bites

  • Wash the wound thoroughly with soap and warm water.
  • Pat dry and cover with an adhesive dressing or a small sterile dressing.
  • Advise the casualty to see their own medical practitioner.

Treatment of Serious Wounds

  • Control bleeding by applying direct pressure and raising the injured part.
  • Cover the wound with a sterile dressing or clean pad bandaged in place.
  • The casualty should be taken or sent to hospital.

Insect Stings

Bee, wasp and hornet stings are usually more painful and alarming than dangerous.  An initial sharp pain is followed by mild swelling and soreness, which can be relieved by first aid.  However, some people are allergic to these poisons, and can rapidly develop anaphylactic shock, a very serious condition.  Multiple stings can have a dangerous cumulative effect.  Stings in the mouth or throat, causing swelling which may obstruct the airway, should be taken very seriously.

Treatment of a Sting in the Skin

  • Remove the sting, if still present, with tweezers.
  • Apply a cold compress to relieve pain and minimise swelling.
  • Advise the casualty to see their own medical practitioner if pain and swelling persist or increase over the following 24 to 48 hours.

Treatment of a Sting in the Mouth

  • Give the casualty ice to suck to minimise swelling.
  • Contact the emergency service, reassuring the casualty until help arrives.

Injuries by Marine Creatures

Sea creatures can cause various injuries.  Jellyfish, Portuguese man-of-war, corals and sea anemones can cause stings.  Their venom is contained in stinging cells (nematocysts) that stick to the victim’s skin, and this is released when the cell ruptures.  The spines of sea urchins or weever fish may puncture the skin, if trodden on, and become embedded in the foot, usually causing a painful local reaction, though serious general effects are rare.  In some parts of the world, sever degrees of poisoning can occur, giving rise to sever allergic reaction (anaphylactic shock), or paralysis of the chest muscle.  These cases, rarely, may be fatal.

Treatment of Marine Stings

  • Pour alcohol or household vinegar over the injury for several minutes to incapacitate stinging cells that have not yet ruptured.
  • Apply to the wound a paste of equal parts of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and water.
  • Dust a dry powder such as talcum powder or meat tenderiser over the skin around the injury so that remaining cells stick together.
  • In case of severe injuries or a serious generalised reaction, contact the emergency service.

Treatment of Marine Puncture Wounds

  • Place the injured part in water as hot as the casualty can bear for at least 30 minutes, topping up the water as it cools, and taking care not to scald the casualty.
  • The casualty should be taken or sent to hospital, where any spines remaining in the skin can be removed.

Snake Bites

A snake bite is often not a serious injury, but can be very frightening.  It is vital to reassure the casualty, as the spread of venom by be delayed if the casualty keeps still and calm.  The snake, or a note of its appearance, should be kept, so that that correct anti-venom can be given, if necessary.  The police should be notified if an escaped snake remains at large.

Treatment of Snake Bites

  • Lay the casualty down, telling them to keep calm and still.
  • Wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water, if possible.
  • Secure and support the injured part.  Contact the emergency service.

DO NOT apply a tourniquet, cut the wound with a knife, or attempt to suck out the venom.

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