Bug Bites and Stings

Bug bites and stings introduction

Warm weather makes it easier to spend more time outdoors, but it also brings out the bugs. Ticks are usually harmless. But a tick bite can lead to Lyme disease, which is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. The bacteria are transmitted to people by the black-legged deer tick, which is about the size of a pinhead and usually lives on deer. Infected ticks can also cause other diseases, such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

Another insect-borne illness, West Nile virus, is transmitted by infected mosquitoes and usually produces mild symptoms in healthy people. But the illness can be serious for older people and those with compromised immune systems.

Most reactions to bees and other stinging insects are mild, but severe allergic reactions can be deadly. An allergic reaction can occur even if a person has been stung before with no complications.

Here are tips for preventing and treating bites and stings.

What can I do to keep insects away?

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  • Use structural barriers such as window screens and netting.
  • Avoid wooded, brushy, and grassy areas when possible.
  • Don't wear heavily scented soaps and perfumes.
  • Use caution eating outside and drinking; don't leave drinks and garbage cans uncovered.
  • Don't wear bright colors, which attract bees.
  • Wear long sleeves and long pants when possible.
  • Tuck pant legs into socks or shoes.
  • Wear a hat for extra protection.
  • Get rid of containers with standing water that give mosquitoes a breeding ground. Examples include water in flowerpots and outdoor pet dishes.
  • Use insect repellent if nonchemical methods are ineffective and you spend time in tall grass and woody areas.
  • Treat camping gear, clothes, and shoes with permethrin, which repels and kills ticks, mosquitoes, and other insects. Clothing that is pre-treated with permethrin is also commercially available.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/26/2014

Patient Comments

Viewers share their comments

Bug Bites and Stings - Experience Question: Please describe your experience with bug bites and stings.
Bug Bites and Stings - Keeping Insects Away Question: Please share tips for keeping insects away from you and your home.
Bug Bites and Stings - Removing a Bee Stinger Question: If you've been stung by a bee, how did you or someone else remove the stinger? Please share your experience.
Bug Bites and Stings - Pain and Itch Relief Question: Bug bites hurt and are itchy. What works for you in relieving the pain and itchiness?
Bug Bites and Stings - Tick Removal Question: How do you prevent tick bites? If you've found a tick on someone, how did you remove it?

Bug Bite Treatment

Medical Author: Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD
Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

I hate bugs, especially the ones that "bite." For me, I lump all stinging and biting creatures into this bug category, so I choose to use the general definition of "bugs" to include all insects and insect-like invertebrates that bite or sting. Some people are more susceptible to bug bites than others. I am one of those unlucky people that mosquito populations must have a personal vendetta against. Consequently, I have had some experience with bug bites.

In general, most bug bites are simply an annoyance. Common symptoms of benign bug bites include:

  • redness,
  • mild burning,
  • localized and minor swelling or pain, and
  • itching.

Most bug bite symptoms last for about a day or so, and then slowly resolve.

Bites from the more benign category include:

  • most mosquitos;
  • bed bugs;
  • many ticks;
  • some biting flies and ants;
  • fleas;
  • chiggers;
  • lice;
  • mites (for example, scabies, dust mites, and chiggers); and
  • some non-poisonous spiders.

Bites or stings from bees, hornets, fire ants, wasps, yellow jackets , some spiders (brown recluse and black widow, most notably) and scorpions produce symptoms that can range from mild to severe.

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