Insect bites and parasites

Insect stings

Insect stings and bites are without doubt the most common form of wildlife dangers that are encountered. From my own experiences of being nearly eaten alive (well it felt like it) by tiny midges in Ennerdale forest in the Lake District, the risks from bites and stings can often be underestimated.  Every country in the world unless nearly permanently below zero has its quota of biting / sting insects and in some areas such as tropical rainforests and many deserts the amount of such pests can be staggering.

Insect attacks can cause problems in several ways, firstly they can cause high levels of pain, discomfort, and irritation which can drastically affect a groups morale and if such bites are scratched lead to infection.  Secondly many insects can be carriers for infectious disease such as malaria, which is on the increase in many countries and may soon return to Europe (Oliver Cromwell caught Malaria in Ireland in the 17th century). Thirdly some insects produce considerable levels of blood loss when they feed as they inject a natural anti clotting agent into the bite to keep the blood flowing freely. This can continue after the creature has stopped feeding, since some insects also use a local aesthetic the victim may not even beware they are bleeding, (as can be the case with the rather unpleasant Camel Spider of the desert), this can be a serious problem if the victim has suffered multiple bites while sleeping.   

Finally and most famously insect bites or stings can cause an allergic reaction through anaphylaxis (anaphylactic shock) or through a toxic over load due to the shear amount of venom as with a lot of bee or wasp stings. This can result in the airway closing or respiratory failure.  An important note is that if you suspect someone of having an allergic reaction to a sting or bite and he or she starts to have difficulty breathing you need to request medical assistance immediately, as the airway will swell up and close CPR or mouth to mouth will be of little use. If people are aware that they have a serious allergy they may carry an Epipen injector (this contains a measured dose of epinephrine made from adrenaline), unless you have been properly trained to use one it is best to assist the victim to use it him or herself if possible. Even if this appears to have worked medical treatment is still needed as the effects of the pen can wear off and the reaction reoccur.  In most cases the best you can do is remove any sting (or the head and jaws in the case of bulldog ants) left in the wound carefully using a pair of tweezers, being careful to grip any sting below the poison sack or extra venom may be injected into the wound. Once any sting is removed clean the area carefully to prevent infection and apply a cold compress to reduce swelling and any bleeding. If the victim has been stung in the mouth you can give them something cold to suck if possible. If the victim is encountering breathing difficulties then place them in a position which will aid them breathing and loosen any clothing around the throat.



Ticks are small blood sucking insects common in many parts of the world especially around livestock or grazing animals.  The best way to protect yourself is to make sure you are well covered with clothing especially in grassy or woodland areas which are they normal habitat. In the UK sheep ticks are especially nasty in Mooreland areas, which have grazing sheep, and I have seen someone with a tick burrowed into the lip, which they thought, was a cold sore. Careful checking of each other for these little creepy crawlies is best and the risk of infection from a bite is quite high. Anyone who has suffered tick bites should be monitored for a few days after they have been removed for any sign of infection. To remove use tweezers and try to grip the head which will be very close to the skin and lever it out with a gentle rocking motion. If parts are left in the wound remove them and clean the wound carefully and cover to prevent infection.


Leeches popular in the old jungle war films are a blood-sucking worm like creature. They can be found in most countries and like moist, humid and wet conditions so are most common in jungle conditions. They attach themselves to their victim by sliding off vegetation or floating in water, they then connect and start to feed often unnoticed. As they feed they swell in size as they become bloated with blood. Their mouths have a serrated set of teeth and they cannot be pulled off like ticks. To remove touch them with a lit cigarette or a smouldering piece of stick or sprinkle with salt and they will shrivel and drop off.  Once this is done clean the wound carefully. In tropical areas it is best to get into the habit of checking each other each day for leeches, as they can be hard to spot yourself attaching to the backs of legs and knees and other hard to reach places.

Worm Parasites

A wide variety of parasites exist and are common in the poorer areas of the world. Infection is mainly through swimming in water, which has been polluted with sewage or by poor toilet hygiene. Inspecting a casualty’s faeces can give evidence of infection and although not immediately dangerous they can be if left untreated and can cause great discomfort and reduce the strength and stamina of a victim


Is a pink or white worm, which can grow, up to 30cm (12inch) in length and is spread by contact with Faeces. Early signs can include coughing with some blood, as the young worms travel through the blood stream to the lungs, stomach pains and constipation.  Treatment is drug based using Mebendazole or Piperazine, although if not available an equal mixture of Papaya milk, sugar and honey can work as a de wormer.


These 1cm long worms gather around the anus and cause a great deal of itching. As the victim then scratches they travel under the fingernails and into the digestive system via the mouth either directly by hand to mouth contact or via food. It is treated by Mebendazole or Piperazine as with roundworm but can also be treated by drinking garlic crushed into hot water once a day for several weeks. For this reason garlic is sometimes given horses which have worms.  Prevention is key and as normal comes down to good hygiene after visiting the toilet and resisting the urge to scratch!


Hookworm is a particularly nasty worm about 1cm long, which can enter the body in a variety of ways.  It can enter the body through infected water or bore through the skin to enter the blood stream, normally through the soft skin around the feet. Once in the blood stream they travel to the lungs, and are coughed up to be swallowed and enter the stomach and gut, which is their intended target, once there they hook onto the gut hence their name. They are a very dangerous parasite and draining strength and stamina from the victim and leaving them vulnerable to pneumonia and some times causing anaemia. The infestation requires medical treatment but in the short term iron rich foods such as red meat and iron tablets can help the victim.


The tapeworm is one of the largest parasitic worms when fully grown and can reach several meters in length inside the body. It normal infects the victim through poorly cooked meat. The effects are generally mild and some people are unaware that they have a parasite inside them. Pork tap worms can cause more serious problems as the young worms can make their way to the casualty’s brain causing very serious damage and death if untreated.  Infection is usually detected when a small part of worm is found in the victim’s clothes or faeces. Treatment requires medical attention. Tapeworm is one of the reasons why worming domestic pets regularly is highly recommended.

Blood Flukes

Blood Flukes (Schistosoma) are worm like creatures, which enter the body through broken skin or contaminated water. Adult worms can live 20-30 years and are about 1cm long. Some can cause Bilharzias disease, which causes blood in the urine or diarrhoea and a general itchiness. It is treated with metrifonate or oxamniquine so proper medical treatment is needed. It is estimated that over 200 million people become infected with blood flukes each year; they are common throughout all of Africa, some islands in the Caribbean, South East Asia and North West South America


Amoebas are not worms but microscopic organisms, which enter the victim through infected drinking water. As they are so small few filters will prevent them so boiling and other methods of treating drinking water are recommended.  They do not automatically cause illness but can cause a very serious condition called Amoebic dysentery. This is very bad diarrhoea with some periods of constipation and periods of blood loss at times in serous amounts through bowel movements.  Medical treatment is needed but as with all cases of diarrhoea it is vital to keep the victim hydrated and as they will have low blood sugar and energy levels reduce the amount of  activity they under take.