KEEP AN EYE OUT
Moore says another worrisome spider has come onto the local scene. Called the hobo spider, this arachnid is not native to the U.S. and is slowly moving from the western United States to the east. Its bite is painful, like the black widow, with localized symptoms, like the fiddle back, causing necrotic damage.
About Our Expert
Dr. Chris Moore is a medical doctor who has held many wilderness safety roles in the community during his tenure. He was the director of wilderness and event medicine at the UTC College of Medicine, helped start Baylor’s Walkabout program and Outdoor Chattanooga, and has served as trip physician on multiple outdoor excursions far and wide.
Big problems can come from small sources.
For example: On average, shark attacks account for about one death per year. The same for alligators and bears. Bees, hornets and wasps, on the other hand, cause an average 58 deaths per year in the U.S.
Of course, the fact that you're much more likely to come across a bee in your day-to-day wanderings than, say, an alligator accounts for much of this. But that same fact is what prompted us at Get Out to ask our expert Dr. Chris Moore about stings, bites and any other problems bugs might cause out on the trail.
Here's what you should know:
BEE & WASP STINGS
"There are no bees or wasps out there looking to take down a human being," jokes Moore. "Without question, [if they attack] they have been provoked somehow." However, while a sting to a hiker who's not allergic is, at worst, a nuisance and a bit painful, danger comes when that hiker is allergic, and it heightens if he or she is unaware of the allergy.
WHAT TO DO:
When removing a stinger, use a straight edge to scrape across the sting site instead of trying to pull it straight out of the skin. The stinger is like a needle with a venom sac on top, so trying to pull it up will likely just inject the rest of the venom into your body, Moore says.
If you know you're allergic to bees and wasps, bring Benadryl or some other type of antihistamine, as well as an EpiPen, which you should have already practiced using so you won't hesitate in a crisis.
If you get stung and aren't sure whether or not you're allergic, watch for the following signs: increasing pain at the site of the sting, redness and swelling. Then, the reaction may turn anaphylactic, affecting your breathing and even closing up your trachea.
In this case, hopefully you brought some type of antihistamine in your basic first aid kit. (This is our way of saying an antihistamine is a must for your trail adventures.) If you're becoming incapacitated, you need to get to definitive care as quickly as possible, says Moore, adding that just because you were stung on a different occasion and didn't experience a strong reaction, it doesn't mean you can't have a severe reaction this time around. This is due to the body's natural histamine reaction becoming more sensitized and thus more defensive, he explains.
If you find yourself in a swarm and can somehow remain calm, Moore says to move slowly. "What all the textbooks say is to slowly remove yourself from the scene. What it's getting at there is don't provoke the swarm further," he explains. However, few people can stay calm while standing in the middle of an angry swarm of bees, so Moore says jumping into a body of water — just like in the movies — is a good idea. "If there's no water, keep hauling ass," he advises. "It's one of those things where there's not a great answer."
From Lyme disease to Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ticks can carry bacteria which has drastic effects on humans, even resulting in death.
This is generally the most significant concern with tick bites and it's prevalent in this part of the country, Moore says, adding that it has been a growing problem over the last 30 or 40 years.
Initial symptoms include a characteristic rash which consists of a ring around a centralized red area. Then, fever and malaise set in, with arthritic pain and even cardiac manifestations coming later.
Rocky Mountain spotted fever:
It's often carried by the lone star tick, which we have plenty of on our trails in Chattanooga.
This illness also produces a rash, though it is more diffuse, and its key feature is the fever.
WHAT TO DO:
The tricky thing about tick bites is that you may not realize you've been bitten for a long time after the bite. But, Moore says, experts generally believe a tick must be embedded in human skin for 24 hours before it can transmit one of these diseases, so thoroughly — and he emphasizes "thoroughly" — examine your body after a trek in the woods or when you get back to your tent. You could virtually eliminate the chance of contracting these illnesses.
There is a third illness which is different than these two. It's called tick paralysis, and its effects can be felt as quickly as a few hours after a bite. "The reaction is actually caused by the tick [instead of by bacteria the tick is carrying]," explains Moore. "It's caused by the venom of the Dermacentor tick, which is neurotoxic [causing the symptoms of paralysis]." Usually when a victim of this type of tick bite gets to the emergency room and doctors remove the tick, the symptoms automatically begin to dissipate, he says.
"There are generally two significant spiders in terms of causing medical issues: the black widow and the brown recluse, now officially called the fiddle back," says Moore. When it comes to spider bites, the best thing you can do is get to definitive care, which means you need to know the characteristics of the spiders and the symptoms their bites cause.
The black widow:
It's a shiny, black spider with an orange-ish hourglass-shaped mark on its belly. (We do not, however, advise you get close enough to examine the underside of this spider.)
It largely stays in its web. That means the most likely way you'll be bitten is if you accidentally bust through a web on the trail.
Its bite is painful. "This is good and bad news," says Moore. "The bad thing is it's painful; the good thing is you know you've been bit."
Symptoms that follow are systemic, meaning the bite causes pain and a reaction throughout your body, including strong abdominal cramps and perfuse sweating.
WHAT TO DO: Get definitive care. Doctors will likely give you medicine to control the pain as the venom works its way out of your system. In extreme cases, there is an antivenin they might use.
The brown recluse:
It's characterized by the fiddle-shaped mark on its back. (Again, it's not a good idea to get close enough to one of these in order to identify it.)
"They are secretive and reclusive, but they are free rangers," Moore says. "They don't hang out in spiderwebs, which is why they tend to be a more common bite." Fiddle backs are more often found in basements and attics, thus presenting a less common problem on the trail. (Whew!)
"Their bite is not painful and more often than not, people don't realize they've been bitten," he adds. Watch for signs including red spots, swelling and eventually a bluish, blood-blister type of rash, called a bleb. With a fiddle back bite, the pain and reaction are localized to the site of the bite.
If left untreated, it can cause significant tissue damage.
WHAT TO DO: Get to definitive care as quickly as possible, where you will be treated with antibiotics.