Friday, July 10, 2009

Hiking in Southern Ontario? Bee Prepared!

You’ve likely heard the phrase “there are two things you can count on in life; death and taxes.” Well if you venture off the beaten path in Southern Ontario I’ll add a third constant; biting insects.

We have black flies, mosquitoes, deer flies, horse flies, sand fleas, and a host of others just waiting for a tasty human snack. For the most part these miniature carnivores are nothing more than pests whose bites and stings quickly fade into the memory of your outdoor experience. But then there are bees and wasps! Bee stings in the bush, particularly in remote areas, should never be taken lightly. They’re not only painful but can, in rare circumstances, be life threatening.

If you or a companion sustain a bee sting the first thing you should do is clean the area and check to see if the stinger is still in the wound…it will often appear as a small black dot. Remove the stinger by scraping. Never squeeze the stinger as this will inject more venom into the wound. If you have ice or even cold water, put it on the sting to ease the initial pain. An antihistamine pill or anti-itch cream can be used to ease the pain and itch.

Always watch a bee sting victim for signs of nausea, dizziness, slurred speech, drowsiness, or difficulty breathing. If any of these symptoms appear call an ambulance or get the victim to a hospital as quickly as possible. Although the vast majority of people exhibit only localized discomfort, allergic reactions can be very serious and even deadly. People who know they are allergic to bee venom should always have an allergy kit (EpiPen) with them and wear a medic alert bracelet. But even those that have never displayed an allergic reaction to bee stings can suddenly become allergic. This is bad enough in a populated area, but if you’re miles from medical help it can be deadly.

Canoeists, campers, hikers, fishermen, hunters, or anyone that spends time in the wilderness should make a bee sting kit an essential part of their first aid kit…and know how to use it. What do I consider to be the wilderness; basically anyplace where you can’t reach medical help (clinic, doctor, hospital, first aid center, etc.) within a short period of time. Three quarters of bee sting victims that die from anaphylactic shock die within 45 minutes of being stung. Immediate attention is essential.

Remember that a minor mishap within easy access of medical attention can become a life threatening ordeal in the wilderness. Take time to learn the necessary skills and stay safe.

So is this cause for major concern when heading off the beaten path? I would say it is something to be aware of and prepared for rather than something to be fearful of. Statistics vary and seem to be a bit unreliable but suffice it to say that there are only between 40 and 100 deaths each year in all of North America. So I would say your odds are pretty good. Now get out and enjoy our great Southern Ontario outdoors.

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