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Enjoy the great outdoors without a sting in the tail

Picnic plans are all very well - but what about the wasps? Liz Connor asks an expert for his top tips on avoiding a painful summer

The one thing that's more certain to ruin your picnic plans than a shortage of cocktail sausages at the supermarket? The sudden arrival of a pack of wasps.

Being set upon by stinging insects is never fun and, unless you're one of those admirable people who can act cool and collected when a wasp starts harassing your hamper, you're likely to spend more time swatting and squealing than eating and enjoying yourself.

Wasps, like bees and hornets, are equipped with a stinger as a means of self-defence. A wasp's stinger contains venom that's transmitted to humans during a sting, resulting in a sharp pain and burning sensation.

Although these amber and black-coloured buzzers are often an unwelcome nuisance during summer, it's good to remember that they're not all bad news.

Wasps pollinate plants and keep pest insect populations under control, so there's good reason for them to be in your garden.

That said, we could all do without the hassle of worrying about our picnics being invaded. We asked leading UK insect expert, Professor James Logan, for his advice on keeping wasps at bay, and what to do if you're unlucky enough to get stung.

1. Don't panic

When a wasp is heading straight for the morsel of food in your hand, it's natural to panic and start swatting it away. "Don't flap around wasps and bees, though," says Logan, "as this may agitate them and they may be more likely to sting. Bees and wasps have very little interest in us - they are usually interested in what we are eating or drinking. They only attack in defence. The best thing to do is to remain calm and the insect will usually leave of its own accord eventually."

2. Keep an eye on your drink

One of the most painful places to get a wasp sting is on your mouth. For this reason, Prof Logan says you should be extra vigilant with sugary drinks. "When outside, check the inside of your can of juice as wasps can climb inside, and being stung inside the mouth could be dangerous."

3. Keep food sealed

"Wasps are often attracted to food, so keep things in sealed containers," says Prof Logan. "Some insect repellents can be used to protect against wasps landing on your skin and stinging you."

4. Leave wasp and bee nests well alone

If you've identified the source of the wasps be careful not to touch it, as you may be stung multiple times. Usually, a wasps' nest will die out in the winter if left alone.

5. What if you get a sting?

Prof Logan says: "You should always get advice from a pharmacist or GP before taking any medication. Things you can buy include antihistamine tablets, antihistamine creams, pain killers, such as paracetamol, and anti-inflammatories, such as ibuprofen. You can also use a cold compress to help reduce swelling."

6. How do you know if it's serious?

Unfortunately, Prof Logan says that you'll only know if you're allergic to a wasp sting when you are actually stung, but most people will have a very mild reaction.

"A very small percentage of people may have a severe reaction called anaphylaxis, though," he adds. "Although this is thankfully very rare, it's important that everyone's aware of the warning signs and how to respond - anaphylaxis is a medical emergency.

"Things to look out for are shortness of breath, difficulty swallowing, speaking or breathing, swelling of the lips, mouth and throat, hives on the body, confusion and anxiety, a fast heartbeat or collapsing.

"If this happens, it could be very serious. An Epipen (automatic injection devices containing adrenaline for allergic emergencies) should be used, if the person has one. An ambulance should also be called immediately. Remove the sting if it is still embedded and lie the person down. If they stop breathing, you should administer CPR until the ambulance arrives."

For more information on ways to relieve pain, itching and inflammation from insect bites and stings, visit www.anthisan.co.uk

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