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Stings Can Take the Zing Out of Summer

Summer fun doesn't come without dangers. When the sun comes out, so do a lot of stingers.

"While many bee pollinators are active only in early spring, honeybees and bumblebees are active all summer," said Keith Delaplane, a University of Georgia Extension Service entomologist.

In Georgia, it's not bees you have to watch out for. It's wasps.

"Most people call any stinging insect a bee," Delaplane said. "True bees are valuable pollinators and rarely warrant control. A live-and-let-live approach is far better."

Wasps and yellow jackets are another matter.

"They become more numerous and problematic toward the end of summer," Delaplane said. "The best control is to treat individual nests. The earlier in summer the better."

Commercial sprays are best for controlling wasps and yellow jackets.

How do you avoid being stung?

"Walking barefoot in clover is a risk," Delaplane said. "If you encounter bees on flowers, simply leave them alone and enjoy watching them. If you see a bumblebee nest, avoid it. It will die out in the fall."

Don't swat at stinging insects. Swatting a bee just agitates it more. Delaplane recommends you walk -- or run -- away and don't waste time with fruitless and dangerous swatting.

In spite of folk tales, most stinging insects are equally potent.

"It depends more on the individual than the bee," Delaplane said. "For some beekeepers, honeybee stings are practically nothing. But for those same people, a wasp sting can be very painful."

Some people may have bad reactions to any bee sting.

"If you swell and feel pain at a sting site, it's not an allergic reaction," he said. "It's a normal reaction. An allergic reaction includes sweating, dizziness, light-headedness, shaking, convulsions and more serious symptoms -- reactions suffered by a very small fraction of the population."

If you are allergic to bee stings, carry a sting kit at all times. Most other stings can be treated with a topical ointment such as Benadryl.

Think bees are the only summer stingers? Think again.

"Fire ants inflict pain," said UGA entomologist Beverly Sparks. "They actually bite (to hold on) and then sting -- that's the part that hurts."

A fire ant sting is different from other ants.

"Its sting burns for a few minutes, then starts itching," Sparks said. "Then a white pustule forms within several hours of a sting."

Not all ant stings are as painful as a fire ant's.

"Many ants are the shape and size of a fire ant, and unless you have a good hand lens or microscope it's hard to tell these ants apart," Sparks said.

It's their behavior that gives them away.

"If you see a large, turtle-shaped mound with no obvious entry point and when you disturb the mound, hundreds of ants respond very quickly, you can be sure they're fire ants," Sparks said.

If fire ants sting you, treat the area with an approved insect- bite remedy that not only deadens pain but provides infection protection. Sting-Kill External Anesthetic, which contains benzocaine, is one such product.

"Some people react severely to fire ant stings," Sparks said. "They should see a physician immediately."

Allergic reactions to fire ant stings may include chest pains, nausea or lapsing into a coma.

(Faith Peppers is the director of public affairs with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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