Insect Bites

Insect bites (and stings) are very common occurrences. Swelling and redness around the site of the bite (or sting) are the most common symptoms. Depending on the person or insect, other symptoms like itching, stinging or pain may occur as well. Some persons may be allergic to the sting or bite of an insect which can result in mild to life-threatening reactions.

Bites and stings contain proteins along with other substances which the body may identify as harmful; this is the reason for allergic reactions. Fire ants, hornets, wasps, yellow jackets, ticks and bees are some of the most common insects that can cause severe allergic reactions. In fact, deaths occurring from bee stings are 3 to 4 times higher than fatalities from snake bites.

Many insect bites can cause diseases. It is important to note that most bites are harmless hence diseases caused by insect bites do not result from the actual bites but from other organisms transferred when bitten. Micro-organisms like protozoans, bacteria and viruses (referred to as pathogen) are spread by insects (referred to as vectors).

The main vectors and diseases are

Mosquitoes: malaria, dengue fever, West Nile virus, Japanese b encephalitis, yellow fever and filariasis
Ticks: lyme disease, tick borne encephalitis and typhus fever
Lice: Typhus Fever
Flies: Blackflies- filariasis, sandflies-leishmaniasis, Tsetse flies- sleeping sickness
Assassin Bugs: Chagas disease
Fleas: Plague or Black Death

Avoiding Insect Bites

The easiest way to deal with insect bites is to prevent them. The above diseases may be worldwide or occur in specific regions on the globe. For this reason, research the areas to which you are travelling to know what you will be exposed to. Prohibit skin contact by wearing suitably thick clothing that covers the entire body since short or thin clothing can facilitate bites. In the absence of proper clothing, insect repellants must be used on skin. Insecticides (spray or heated tablets) and pyrethroid coils can be used inside rooms while mosquito nests treated with insecticide can be used outdoors or for unscreened rooms.

Treatment for Insect Bites

Where bites occur, for allergic reactions or serious symptoms (including high fevers, dizziness and nausea) see a doctor. Most bites however, can be treated at home. More times than not, a simple local application is all that is needed since the insect remains on the skin’s surface. These are ointments, creams and antiseptics that can be used at the site of the bite. Antiseptics are important especially for bites that cover extensive areas and may already be resulting in swelling, redness or any kind of irritation.

Ticks on the other hand tend to burrow beneath the skin so removing the insect carefully to avoid further infection is needed. Using turps or kerosene to kill the tick is recommended then, using a fine tipped splinter forcep (instrument that looks like a tweezer but narrows to toothpick looking tips), firmly grip the neck of the tick and pull the head from under the skin (avoid leaving the head below the skins surface or squishing the tick on the site of the bite since both can lead to further infection). The necessary topical treatments can be used or in serious cases consult a doctor.