There are, inevitably, some risks in the woods. The whole point of what we do is that we are having an adventure, and giving children the chance to gain some risk management experience. It’s very unlikely that you will need to be concerned with anything that happens during the day: most of the minor injuries kids tend to pick up are just that – minor. However, there are a couple of things that your children could encounter that we will want you to be aware of.
Bees and wasps
The UK’s quintessential stinging beasties. Neither creature is aggressive unless provoked, and bee and wasp stings are not usually anything more than painful. But, if your child is allergic to them, the results can be alarming and sometimes serious. If you know you have a child with a bee or wasp allergy then you will also know the signs and symptoms. However, if your child has been stung for the first time then you may not be aware of any specific allergy. Allergic reactions to bee or wasp stings can include (In increasing order of seriousness):
Localised reactions Swelling at the site of the sting, which can be more than 10 cm in diameter and last for more than 24 hours. The rest of the limb may be involved but no generalised symptoms are present. These reactions are more common in children than in adults.
Mild systemic reactions These reactions are characterised by skin swelling and hives in an area of skin remote from the sting. Children experiencing these reactions are not thought to be significantly at risk of future life-threatening reactions compared to others.
Moderate / severe systemic reactions (Anaphylaxis) Any or all of the following symptoms may be present:
- Swelling of throat and mouth
- Difficulty in swallowing or speaking
- Difficulty in breathing – due to severe asthma or throat swelling
- Hives anywhere on the body, especially large hives
- Generalised flushing of the skin
- Abdominal cramps, nausea and vomiting
- Sudden feeling of weakness (drop in blood pressure)
- Collapse and unconsciousness
THESE REACTIONS INDICATE A SERIOUS AND POTENTIALLY LIFE-THREATENING ALLERGIC RESPONSE AND YOU SHOULD SEEK MEDICAL ADVICE IMMEDIATELY.
The symptoms of anaphylaxis occur because the sting causes the release of allergy-producing chemicals (mediators) into the blood which can affect the whole body, and in particular, the breathing and blood circulation.
Oak Processionary Moth (OPM)
The oak processionary moth is a species of moth with caterpillars that nest on oak trees. The caterpillars are covered in small hairs which can cause health risks in humans. These are usually in the form of an itchy rash that can appear anywhere on the body (but usually on the face, neck or arms, as these are most exposed). More rarely, exposure can cause breathing difficulties (if inhaled) or conjunctivitis (if in contact with eyes).
To minimise health risks:
- Do not touch or approach oak processionary moth caterpillars or their nests.
- Do not let children or animals touch or approach the caterpillars or nests.
- Do not try and remove the caterpillars or nest yourself.
However, if you are affected, the symptoms, although unpleasant, are not usually medically serious and should pass in a few days. Over-the-counter medicines can relieve the symptoms.
If you do have a serious allergic reaction, call NHS111 or see a doctor. Similarly, consult a vet for badly affected animals.
Ticks are an unfortunate fact of life throughout the South East of England. They are not dangerous in themselves (though they are unpleasant) but they can (rarely) carry Lyme Disease, which can be serious if untreated. However, humans and ticks have coexisted for thousand of years, so with a little common sense they shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
Ticks are parasites that feed on the blood of other animals. They cannot jump or fly, but when ready for a meal will climb a nearby piece of vegetation and wait for a passing animal or human to catch their hooked front legs. The tick will not necessarily bite immediately, but will often spend some time finding a suitable site on the skin.
Once a tick has started to feed, its body will become filled with blood. Adult females can swell to many times their original size. As their blood sacs fill they generally become lighter in colour and can reach the size of a small pea, generally grey in colour. Larvae, nymphs and adult males do not swell as much as they feed, so the size of the tick is not a reliable guide to the risk of infection. If undisturbed, a tick will feed for around 5 to 7 days before letting go and dropping off.
The bite is usually painless and most people will only know they have been bitten if they happen to see a feeding tick attached to them. Adults are most often bitten around the legs. Small children are generally bitten above the waist—check their hairline and scalp.
The risk of infection increases the longer the tick is attached, but can happen at any time during feeding. As tick bites are often unnoticed, it may be difficult to determine how long it has been attached. Any tick bite should be considered as posing a risk of infection.
What to do if your child has a tick
There is a PDF on ticks and what to do if your child has one here. Information on ticks. DO NOT attempt to just pull the tick out or allow your child to do so – this increases the risk of infection should the tick be carrying anything nasty. Read the leaflet, and use either a tick removal tool (vets stock these) or a pair of tweezers as indicated. If you are at all worried then contact your GP, who may wish you to keep the tick after you have removed it.