Stings and Bites

In the summer you risk being bitten by an insect or snake. Very often, such attacks are in fact defensive reflexes. Beekeepers will tell you: in most cases bees only sting if they feel threatened. It is therefore up to you to be careful. Warn your children who are the first victims of viper bites or wasp stings. Be careful if you spend your holidays in France, in the countryside or by the sea, and even more so if you are staying in certain regions of Africa, Asia or America. Because insects and poisonous animals are more numerous there and the precautions to be taken are therefore even more necessary than in our latitudes.

In temperate regions


Stings from wasps, bees and hornets are the most common. The venomous apparatus is located at the posterior end of the abdomen of females, which has a retractable stinger with side hooks. This stinger very frequently remains in the skin and the venom sac attached to it will empty when you attempt to remove the stinger with your fingers. Most often, wasp, bee and hornet stings only cause local and painful inflammation. The consequences can be much more serious if there are multiple stings or stings in the mouth or pharynx, or if the person has allergies or heart or respiratory failure. In some cases, death can occur in a matter of minutes: every year in France about ten deaths are reported due to insect bites. So be careful: - stay away from the hives and keep your distance from hornet's nests, wasps... - if you discover a hornet's or wasp nest near your home, inform the fire brigade and possibly a beekeeper if you discover a swarm of bees; he will be able to recover it. - if you are being chased by a swarm, take refuge in a house, car or any other place that is as dark as possible and hermetically sealed. Also, be aware that desensitization treatment with bee venom is available. Horsefly stings are painful. Tick bites can sometimes transmit diseases (fever, local or widespread paralysis, etc.). Also, remember that certain substances such as lemongrass oil or certain plants such as geraniums repel mosquitoes.


Spiders also have a venomous apparatus in their mouth appendage but there are no dangerous species in our regions.


Poisonous scorpions are rare. However, they can be found in the south of France. Their sting is painful but harmless except for infants. Teach him not to lift stones and small tree stumps carelessly and if he is stung, take him to a hospital without delay.

Fish and shellfish

Small livelings bury themselves in the sand or mud and let only part of their head or back stick out. These fish have an important venomous apparatus and their very sharp erectile spines can pierce gloves and shoes. The pain is extremely violent, like a burn, and can last from two to twenty-four hours; it is progressively accompanied by significant swelling of the affected limb. Act immediately: the most effective and simple treatment consists of immersing the affected part of the body in a bath of water as hot as possible, with the addition of a mild antiseptic. If you feel unwell or faint: alert the emergency services. Stingrays are also armed with one or more poisonous stings. The lesions are the same as those caused by sharp stings.  
  • Scorpion fish and sea urchins are not very dangerous in our regions. But beware, urchin stings tend to break up inside the dermis and later cause infections. Therefore, make sure that all the pieces are removed by calling a doctor if necessary.
  • Jellyfish, although more numerous in warm waters, are not uncommon on our coasts. The danger comes from the tentacles, whose contact very often causes intense pain, hives and numbness after a few minutes and, in the most serious cases, nausea and dizziness. Try to remove the tentacles with a knife blade and wash the skin with alcohol, then apply sand or better still talcum powder. An antiseptic solution and painkillers may be necessary.
  • In fresh water, catfish are as poisonous as live ones. When fishing them, do not grab them directly with your hands.


Fortunately, in metropolitan France, viper bites are rarely fatal. They cause immediate pain with a bruise that appears fifteen to thirty minutes later, surrounding the trace of the hooks. Then an oedema occurs locally or goes up to the root of the limb with spots and pale patches. In children, or in the case of direct injection of venom into a vessel, bites can have more serious consequences. Treat medically only actual poisonings. The bite may be superficial or the reptile may not have injected its venom. Such bites, without venom injection, occur one out of every two or three times. Medical treatment will only be undertaken if there is local edema. The decision to use a serum rests with the doctor. It may be useful to carry some with you at all times - it should be kept at the right temperature to preserve its effectiveness. If the ideal storage temperature is +4°, one can nevertheless travel in our temperate climates for six to eight weeks without fear of calling into question the effectiveness of the product. On the other hand, in overseas departments, snakes are often those of warm countries (trigonocephals ...) and therefore require more precautions. Outside our borders: In tropical or subtropical zones, the risks are much more numerous.
  • Some insects, especially mosquitoes, can inoculate diseases, especially malaria (Anopheles). Wear suitable clothing: trousers, long-sleeved shirt. If you are outside at nightfall, use local repellents. Don't forget your mosquito net and take your prescribed malaria prophylactic medicine regularly. Find out about this and about any compulsory vaccinations from the Specialist Medical Centres.
  • Spiders, which are much more dangerous than in our climates, are common in certain regions of America, Africa and Australia. Serums are scarce and difficult to obtain. So be careful. Check for spiders in car seat slots, under toilet seats, etc...
  • North African scorpions are particularly venomous. Avoid lifting stones carelessly.
  • Large jellyfish are more common and sea urchins are more venomous. Among shellfish, cones and especially geographer's cones are particularly poisonous. Hands are usually injured when they are picked up, resulting in local pain and numbness and then diarrhea and vomiting. Grab them by the base and do not hold them too long in your hands. It is best not to touch them.
  • There are many varieties of snakes and they are most often dangerous. The best safety measure is to get an effective serum prescribed by a doctor. The Institut Pasteur only makes serums for snakes from Europe and North Africa. Therefore, find out what other serums are available from the institutes in the countries where you will be staying and ask about their storage period.

Tips for you and your loved ones

At the seaside - don't touch anything you don't know, either in the water or on the beach; - when swimming, swim rather than wade; - Avoid swimming when jellyfish are plentiful, especially after a storm; - Wear protective footwear to avoid scratches, stings from live fish or other poisonous fish, and sea urchin stings. In the mountains or on excursions - Wear high shoes and pants if you walk off the beaten path. - Inspect the site before setting up camp; never sleep on uncovered ground; - Avoid collecting dead wood in the dark; - don't leave your clothes and shoes on the ground. Hang them up at night and shake them off before putting them back on to avoid surprises; - Do not touch apparently dead poisonous animals. Don't panic: avoid unnecessary or dangerous gestures. - Reassure the injured person; - warm him if necessary with a blanket or warm clothing without absorbing alcohol; - wash the skin lesion with water, disinfect it and remove the stings and prickles; - immobilize the affected limbs if necessary; - Write down the time of injury and the time of onset of any symptoms; - Arrange for a calm transfer of the injured person to hospital.

In case of snake bite

- Avoid incising the bite area and sucking on the wound. The latter can be dangerous for you if you have lesions in the oral mucosa.  
  • It is better to apply a moderately tight pancake bandage than a tourniquet, which can delay the diffusion of venom but may cause aggression.
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