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Numerous arthropod pest species that are known for inflicting injury to humans can be found in Massachusetts. The most frequently encountered arthropod pests of this sort include wasps, European fire ants, mosquitoes, bed bugs, biting flies, blister beetles, ticks, mites, caterpillars and spiders, particularly the aggressive yellow sac spider and the rarely spotted northern black widow. The arthropod pests that inflict medically significant bites or stings are considered a public health threat due to potentially fatal allergic reactions that can result from the venom, saliva or noxious defensive compounds that these bugs inject into the bloodstream.

Yellow jackets, European fire ants and European honey bees in Massachusetts produce venom that has been known to trigger anaphylactic shock when introduced into the human blood stream of sensitive individuals. However, it is rare for people to die from toxic doses of arthropod venom, as most venomous arthropods do not inject enough venom into the bloodstream to have a deadly effect. This is not the case with the three above mentioned arthropod pests, as these pests attack in swarms and usually inflict multiple stings to their victims within a short period of time, but most fatalities that result from ant, bee or wasp envenomations occur due to dangerous allergic reactions and not from toxic levels of venom. Stinging insect pests are particularly abundant in the northeast US, and medically significant yellow jacket envenomation cases occur often, making yellow jackets one of the most dangerous arthropod groups in the US behind mosquitoes, biting flies and ticks.

Non-venomous biting arthropod pests are also well represented in Massachusetts, and these arthropods include ticks, bed bugs, mosquitoes, several fly species, and many others. Both ticks and mosquitoes are biological disease vectors, while biting flies, like greenhead flies and horse flies, are mechanical disease vectors, meaning that they physically smear germ ridden filth onto food sources and surfaces within human dwellings. Bed bugs have not been found to transmit diseases to humans, but bed bugs and most other non-venomous biting insects inject saliva into bite wounds. This saliva is treated as a foreign invader by the body’s immune system, leading to serious allergic reactions that are sometimes fatal. In rare instances, bed bug bites have induced anaphylactic shock in those with severe allergies to the saliva produced by these pests. In any case, mosquitoes, biting flies, and ticks are considered the most dangerous arthropod pests to residents of Massachusetts due to the several potentially deadly diseases the pests spread to humans on a regular basis.

Have you ever experienced an allergic reaction to an arthropod bite or sting?