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About Insect Bites

By Staff Writer

Bug BitesBiting insects include mosquitoes, fleas and bedbugs. Arachnids, such as ticks and spiders, can also deliver painful bites. Seek medical attention for a bite from a poisonous spider, if you develop a bullseye-shaped rash after a tick bite or if you notice signs of infection such as fever, increasing redness, swelling or pus. Get immediate medical care if you have an allergic reaction and experience difficulty breathing, fainting or extreme itching and swelling after an insect bite. Very few people are allergic to insect bites.


Bites can cause itching, redness and swelling because the body reacts to the small amount of insect saliva deposited in bite wounds. The body recognizes the saliva as a foreign entity and mounts an immune response to it. Some people react more strongly than others. Insect bites are usually a minor nuisance that heal on their own within a few days. Bites sometimes cause extreme itching and discomfort. To prevent insect bites, wear long pants, tucked-in shirts, socks and a hat when possible. Avoid mosquitoes by staying indoors in the morning and evening when the weather is warm, when mosquitos are most active. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) both recommend that people apply insect repellents containing DEET (N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide) and Picaridin (KBR 3023).

Insect-borne diseases

When traveling in malaria-prone countries, you can treat clothing and bedding with permethrin (Repel®) to prevent bites from potentially infected mosquitoes. Never apply permethrin directly to skin. Infected mosquitoes can also spread West Nile virus. Cases occur primarily in the late summer or early fall throughout the US. The CDC estimates that about 20% of people infected with West Nile virus will develop West Nile fever or the more serious West Nile disease. The most common symptoms of West Nile fever include fever, headache, fatigue and muscle aches. The common symptoms of West Nile disease include headache, fever, coma, convulsions and muscle weakness possibly leading to paralysis. People over 50 and immunocompromised people are more likely to become more seriously ill. Currently there is no human vaccine for West Nile virus. In some areas of the country, especially the northeast, north-central and Pacific coast, ticks may transmit a bacterial infection called Lyme disease. To prevent tick bites wear long sleeves and pants and use insect repellent when walking in tick-infested areas, especially in spring and summer, when ticks are most likely to be active. If a tick fastens itself to your skin, use tweezers to remove it, being careful to take the head out of your skin. A circular rash may form around the site of the bite. In addition to the rash, early symptoms of infection include fever, fatigue and flu-like symptoms such as aches and pains in the muscles and joints. If you get any of these symptoms after a tick bite, see a doctor. Prompt use of antibiotics can clear up most Lyme disease infections. If you frequently work, hike or camp in tick-infested areas, consider getting vaccinated against Lyme disease.


If you get an insect bite, gently wash the area with soap and water. Most insect bites heal within a few days. Scratching or rubbing the bite can cause even more redness and irritation and can lead to infection or delayed healing. There are many products available to treat insect bites . Over-the-counter products are usually effective, but alternative therapies are also available. In severe cases, your doctor may recommend prescription medicine.


Sources: Balch JF, Balch PA. Prescription for Nutritional Healing. Avery Publishing Group, 1997.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site, http://www.cdc.gov/. Last accessed 11/9/2006.Drug Facts and Comparisons, Facts & Comparisons, 2006. Handbook of Nonprescription Drugs. American Pharmaceutical Association, 1996.Micromedex® Healthcare Series. Thomson Micromedex, 2006.Professional Guide to Conditions, Herbs, and Supplements. Integrative Medicine, 2000.Silverman, H.M., Romano, J., Elmer, G. The Vitamin Book. Bantam, 1999.This answer prepared 6/11/01.This answer updated 1/30/2007.

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