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There are several arthropod species in the northeast United States that either bite or sting humans. Yellow jackets and bees are the two most common insect groups that sting humans in the northeast, but the region is also home to the invasive European fire ant, which inflicts medically significant stings in rare cases. Numerous biting arthropods can be found in the northeast, including horse flies and greenhead flies, which inflict painful bites that often draw blood, but these bites are unlikely to warrant a hospital visit. Several spider species in the northeast inflict bites, but the yellow sac spider and the northern black widow are the only two spider species in the region that inflict bites that can lead to serious symptoms. Although many experts claim that black widows are very rare in the northeast, it should be known that a five year old girl was recently hospitalized in response to a black widow bites that she had sustained outside of her Massachusetts home, and the spiders are also abundant in areas of Cape Cod. Mosquitoes and ticks are the two most dangerous biting arthropods in the northeast.

The most common symptom of arthropod bites and stings is local itchiness, which is known as “pruritus.” Most of the time, pruritus last no more than a day or two following a bite or sting, but in rare cases, pruritus is debilitating and lasts for weeks or months. The itchiness that results from arthropod bites and stings is normally an allergic response to venom or allergens contained within arthropod saliva. The medical term “papular urticaria” refers to the condition of having itchy red welts that form on the skin in response to an allergic reaction to arthropod bites or stings. In some cases, these welts can develop into sizeable fluid-filled blisters, and this condition is most pronounced in children. Excessively scratching these welts can lead to tissue erosion and secondary infection, most notably staph infections. In the northeast, ticks, bed bugs, European fire ants and mosquitoes are the arthropods that are most likely to cause lasting papular urticaria and secondary infections as a result of persistent itchiness.

Have you ever sustained an arthropod bite or sting that resulted in itching that lasted more than a day?