Because of the recent increase in the mosquito-borne West Nile virus, the most important step to take in staying healthy in the Lowcountry and Georgia coast—especially if you have small children—is to keep mosquito bites to a minimum. Do this with a combination of mosquito repellent and long sleeves and long pants, if possible. Not every mosquito bite will give you the virus; in fact, chances are quite slim that one will. But don’t take the chance if you don’t have to.
The second major step in avoiding insect nastiness is to steer clear of fire ants, whose large, gray or brown-dirt nests are quite common in this area. They attack instantly and in great numbers, with little or no provocation. They don’t just bite, they inject you with poison from their stingers. In short, fire ants are not to be trifled with.
While the only real remedy is the preventative one of never coming in contact with them, should you find yourself being bitten by fire ants, the first thing to do is to stay calm. Take off your shoes and socks and get as many of the ants off you as you can. Unless you’ve had a truly large amount of bites—in which case you should seek medical help immediately—the best thing to do next is wash the area to get any venom off, and then disinfect with alcohol if you have any handy. Then a topical treatment such as calamine lotion or hydrocortisone is advised. A fire ant bite will leave a red pustule that lasts about a week. Try your best not to scratch it so that it won’t get infected.
Outdoor activity, especially in woodsy, undeveloped areas, may bring you in contact with another unpleasant indigenous creature, the tiny but obnoxious chigger, sometimes called the redbug. The bite of a chigger can’t be felt, but the enzymes it leaves behind can lead to a very itchy little red spot. Contrary to folklore, putting fingernail polish on the itchy bite will not “suffocate” the chigger, because by this point the chigger itself is long gone. All you can do is get some topical itch or pain relief and go on with your life. The itching will eventually subside.
Threats in the Water
While enjoying area beaches, a lot of visitors become inordinately worried about shark attacks. Every couple of summers there’s a lot of hysteria about this, but the truth is that you’re much more likely to slip and fall in a bathroom than you are to even come close to being bitten by a shark in these shallow Atlantic waters.
A far more common fate for area swimmers is to get stung by a jellyfish, or sea nettle. They can sting you in the water, but most often beachcombers are stung by stepping on beached jellyfish stranded on the sand by the tide.
If you get stung, don’t panic; wash the area with saltwater, not freshwater, and apply vinegar or baking soda.
The southeastern United States is home to vicious, fast-moving thunderstorms, often with an amazing amount of electrical activity. Death by lightning strike occurs often in this region and is something that should be taken quite seriously. The general rule of thumb is if you’re in the water, whether at the beach or in a swimming pool, and hear thunder, get out of the water immediately until the storm passes. If you’re on dry land and see lightning flash a distance away, that’s your cue to seek safety indoors. Whatever you do, do not play sports outside when lightning threatens.
© Jim Morekis from Moon Charleston & Savannah, 4th Edition