Tuesday, May 5, 2009

What bit me?!

I am often asked the seemingly simple question of “What bit me?” by folks who assume that the mere description of a skin lesion will be more than enough to determine the culprit. Aside from the fact that I face liability issues in addressing such inquiries, and can’t afford to keep an attorney on retainer, the truth is that a wide variety of agents other than insects and spiders can cause injuries that resemble “bites.”

The victim is by no means the only person who can misdiagnose the cause of a wound. Medical professionals are often guilty of doing so themselves. Beyond the obvious possibility of other causes is the victim’s own unique immune response to environmental and chemical stimuli. The virulence of insect or spider venom is, in fact, often less important than how our personal body chemistry reacts to it.

Minor itches, rashes, and swelling can be caused by something as relatively innocuous as an ingrown hair. Seriously, ingrown hairs are one of the leading causes of injuries diagnosed as “bites.” There is an excellent online article by Dr. Richard Vetter, a toxicologist at the University of California, Riverside, that documents the amazing array of agents that can cause the necrotic lesions so often attributed to the bites of brown recluse spiders.

Meanwhile, seemingly innocent creatures can pack a real wallop if handled carelessly. Among these creatures are stinging caterpillars and the non-descript blister beetles.

Still, the answer to “What bit me?” is often “nothing at all.” Please consult your physician or pediatrician to properly treat the symptoms of any wound that occurs in the absence of your own observation of the infliction of the injury. Get well soon!

1 comment:

  1. I know first hand how painful an encounter with a blister beetle can be. After finding a large concentration of them near a pole light last summer. One landed on my neck, as I brushed it off, he nailed me with painful toxins and left a blister the size of a dime on my neck that itched and remained there for almost a week. Lesson learned!

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