From long, painful erections to paralysis, a list of some weird effects of bug bites and stings
04/14/2018 // Frances Bloomfield // Views

Insect bites and stings tend to be nothing more than minor annoyances. There may be itching or swelling, but that’s usually it. However, there are some cases where an insect bite can lead to complications that toe the line between fascinating and horrifying. Some of these include:

  • Meat allergies: Some people who get bitten by the lone star tick may be unfortunate enough to develop one of the world’s most unusual allergies. The problem arises from galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose, a carbohydrate present in the majority of mammalian cell membranes but absent in ours. That means that biting down on red meat will activate our immune system’s defenses and lead to allergic reactions that may even progress into anaphylaxis. Unfortunately, this allergy is permanent, though the good thing is that it doesn’t extend to poultry and seafood.
  • Paralysis: Mosquito bites carry many risks, one of which is the West Nile virus. This viral infection has many symptoms ranging from fever to tremors to muscle weakness. But for most people, they experience no symptoms at all. One Arizona man was unlucky enough to suffer one of the more extreme symptoms: paralysis. Nick Cornelius was reported to have become paralyzed from the waist down after being bitten by a mosquito. Paralysis caused by the West Nile virus is believed to be the result of anterior horn cells (motor neurons in the lower spinal cord) becoming infected.
  • Stroke: A construction worker from Ohio was stung by a wasp and went through an ischemic stroke as a result. This occurs when blockages prevent blood from flowing to the brain, which is said to have been caused by the wasp venom constricting the victim’s blood vessels. Another way that wasp venom could induce stroke is by setting off an irregular heartbeat. This could lead to the formation of blood clots and eventually a stroke. The man was brought in partially paralyzed on the left side of his body. Though he was discharged with a slight facial droop on the left side of his face, he came out with function restored to his left arm and leg.
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  • Heart attack: Wasp stings don’t just cause strokes, they can trigger heart attacks, too. This unlikely event happened to an English man who was attacked by a yellow jacket. In the man’s case, however, he wasn’t a picture of good health, so the heart attack didn’t just come out of nowhere. He was a pack-a-day smoker for over 30 years, already had some plaque buildup in his arteries, and was diagnosed with Kounis syndrome. This is a heart syndrome wherein chest pains and, potentially, heart attacks accompany a severe allergic reaction.
  • Necrosis: On the very rare occasions, the bite of a brown recluse spider can bring about necrosis or tissue death. This is because brown recluse spider venom is hemotoxic, meaning that it damages the blood and tissues. Necrosis doesn’t always occur after being bitten, but when it does, the venom can cause tissues to turn black, form a crust, and eventually fall off. There have even been instances of the venom penetrating and affecting fat and muscles. (Related: Brown recluse spider bites are on the rise - learn how to avoid them and what to do in case of a bite.)
  • Erection: The bite of the Brazilian wandering spider has gained a small degree of infamy in the last few years. Not because it can cause asphyxiation or diaphoresis (which is extreme sweating), but because men who’ve had the misfortune of being bitten endured priapisms, which are persistent and painful erections. This unusual effect is all thanks to PnTx2-6, a toxin in the spider’s venom which boosts nitric oxide levels, resulting in increased blood flow into the penis. The downside to having an hours-long erection is that the blood trapped in the penis will eventually run out of oxygen and soon damage or destroy penile tissues. Once that happens, the affected man is at risk of erectile dysfunction, penile disfigurement, or even penile gangrene if severe vascular disease develops within the penis.

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