Common Bug Bites and How to Treat Them

Bug Bites are often incurred when playing outside, in nature while hiking, playing in the grass or in the sand. We’ve outlined a few of the most common bites we see and suggested treatments below:


Mosquito Bites:

Mosquitoes carry viruses and parasites in their saliva. When they bite, mosquitoes can transmit severe and even life-threatening illness. They are known carriers of West Nile virus, dengue fever, yellow fever, and encephalitis, among other diseases. Although malaria is rare in the U.S., mosquitoes transmit malaria to 200 million people around the world each year, and mosquito-borne diseases have killed more people than all the wars in history.


The best way to treat these bites is to wash the bite with soap and warm water. If you have a lot of mosquito bites, you can use over-the-counter pain relievers, antihistamines, or topical anti-itch medications to control pain and itching. An ice pack can provide relief from severe itching. If your child has itchy mosquito bites, make sure you keep their fingernails short and advise them not to scratch. It’s rare for anyone to have a severe allergic reaction to a mosquito bite, but contact your doctor if you develop body aches, headache, or fever.  These may be symptoms of mosquito-borne disease.



Sand Fly Bites:

Sand flies are about 1/8 of an inch long, and have hairy, brownish-gray wings, which they hold above their bodies in a “V” shape. In the U.S., they are found primarily in the southern states. They breed in places with a lot of moisture, such as decaying plants, moss, and mud. The larvae look like worms. They are most active between dusk and dawn. Sand flies eat nectar and sap, but females also feed on the blood of animals and humans. They live mainly in tropical and subtropical climates. 


Sand flies are tiny and quiet, so you may not notice them before they bite. The bite can be painful and may cause red bumps and blisters. Sand flies transmit diseases to animals and humans, including a parasitic disease called leishmaniasis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), leishmaniasis is rare in the U.S., but you may contract it during travel to a foreign country. There are no vaccinations to prevent leishmaniasis. Symptoms include skin sores weeks or months after the bite. It often clears up without treatment, but can be serious in some cases.



Deer Fly Bites:

Deer flies are about 1/4 to 1/2 of an inch long, with brownish-black bands on their otherwise transparent wings. They may have gold or green eyes on their small, rounded heads. They like to hang out near lakes, swamps, or other bodies of water, and are most active during spring. The larvae resemble maggots. Deer flies tend to buzz around our heads on hot summer days, but they generally quiet down at night. Searching for blood to feed on, the female deer fly will lay in wait for animals or humans to pass by.


Deer flies have sharp mouthparts that easily cut into skin and can cause pain. The flies than suck up the blood that flows from the wound. In the U.S., there are only a few types of fly that transmit disease to humans, and deer flies are among them. They transmit a rare bacterial disease known as rabbit fever (tularemia). Symptoms include skin ulcers, fever, and headache. Tularemia can be successfully treated with antibiotics, but without treatment, it can be fatal.


How to treat them:

  • Streptomycin is the drug of choice based on experience, efficacy and FDA approval. Gentamicin is considered an acceptable alternative, but some series have reported a lower primary success rate. Treatment with aminoglycosides should be continued for 10 days.

  • Tetracyclines may be a suitable alternative to aminoglycosides for patients who are less severely ill. Tetracyclines are static agents and should be given for at least 14 days to avoid relapse.

  • Ciprofloxacin and other fluoroquinolones are not FDA-approved for treatment of tularemia but have shown good efficacy in vitro, in animals, and in humans.


Horse Fly Bite:

Horseflies use long mandibles to rip open the skin in order to gain access to the blood. This allows easier access to the blood than what would be received by a needle-like mouth like a mosquito has, and it makes it possible to make a successful bite through fur or clothing. It also has an evolutionary advantage because the bite will be much more painful, forcing the victim to focus on tending to the wound rather than killing the fly. Because of this, the fly will typically get away after biting and it will then return to drink the blood as necessary.

How to treat them:

  • Pain- The area where you were bitten will be torn, and will become sore. Red lumps will typically develop around the area where the bite occurred as your body exhibits a histamine reaction. This may cause the bite to become inflamed or itchy as your body attempts to remove any infectious materials from the area.

  • Allergic Reaction- Those who experience an allergic reaction to a horsefly bite may develop a body rash after being bitten. They may break out in hives or develop wheezing as the body continues to react to the infection. The skin may become pink or swollen. The area around the eyes and lips may begin to swell and the patient may become dizzy or weak.

  • Infection- If the fly was carrying parasites or bacteria that cause an infection, the bite can become extremely painful. Pain may radiate from the area where you were bitten and you may notice puss oozing from the wound. This is a serious reaction that will need to be taken seriously to avoid further medical complications.

  • A hot compress can also provide relief for a horsefly bite. Soak a clean towel such as a tea towel in hot salt water and apply this to the wound. Take care not to scald the infected skin or apply too much pressure to the damaged area as this could increase your discomfort.

  • Different remedies. Many cultures have developed remedies to assist with the pain of a horsefly bite. Icing the wound will help reduce swelling and dull the pain associated with a bite. You can also apply aloe vera, vinegar, Epsom salt, raw onion, mud, honey, a paste made from baking soda or vinegar to the bite to help reduce swelling and discomfort. Once you have applied a topical agent to provide relief, cover the area with a loose bandage to protect the wound and to help keep the remedy in place.

  • Apply Drugs. If the bite is particularly itchy or swollen, apply Benadryl or hydrocortisone cream to the area to help eliminate these symptoms. Oral antihistamines can also be taken to help avoid an allergic reaction.

  • See a doctor. If you begin to suffer an allergic reaction, the bite is very painful or the bite appears to be infected seek medical attention immediately. Horsefly bites can cause severe reactions which can be life threatening if the histamine reaction is very severe. They can also contain bacteria or parasites that can cause a dangerous infection throughout the body. Your doctor will evaluate your symptoms and provide the necessary course of treatment to eliminate these symptoms.


Tick Bites:

Many bugs give us reason for pause, including spiders, chiggers, bees and lice. But few get under our skin -- quite literally -- like the tick. If you enjoy the outdoors, be careful of ticks -- they can attach as you brush past grass and plants. Ticks don't always carry diseases, and most bites are not serious. But they can carry diseases including Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.

Once a tick latches onto skin, it often moves to the warm, moist armpits and groin -- feeding on blood and passing on any disease it carries. A tick bite can also trigger an allergic reaction. If you have a tick, it is important to remove it properly. To prevent tick bites, keep your arms, legs, and head covered when outdoors. Use tick repellant with DEET on skin or clothing, or products with permethrin on clothing. Check for ticks after spending time in grassy or wooded areas.

Avoidance of ticks and use of tick repellents can reduce the risk of being bitten.  Ticks found on the skin should be removed promptly; ticks must be attached for ≥36 hours to transmit the disease. Within 72 hours after tick removal, antibiotic prophylaxis with a single dose of doxycycline should be considered; the strongest indication is when an I. scapularis tick from a highly endemic area is partially engorged or attached for ≥36 hours, but prophylaxis would also be reasonable when the duration of tick attachment or degree of engorgement is uncertain.


Black Widow Spider Bites:

Wood piles and tree stumps -- that's where venomous female black widows hide. She is long-legged and glossy black, with a distinctive orange, red, or yellow "hourglass" shape on her underside. These spiders are roughly 1/3 inch wide and 1.5 inches long, counting their long legs.

Black widow spider bites may cause stabbing pain in the bite area, but they can also be painless. Look for one or two red fang marks, redness, tenderness, and a nodule at the bite site. Severe muscle cramps, nausea, vomiting, seizure, and a rise in blood pressure may follow soon after. Get medical care immediately. Anti-venom medicine is available. If possible, bring the spider with you for positive identification.


Bees, Wasps, Hornets, Yellow Jackets:

If you don't have an allergic reaction, simply remove the stinger, clean the sting site, apply ice, take oral antihistamine for itching, and take ibuprofen or acetaminophen for pain relief. If you have a severe anaphylactic reaction, use an epinephrine auto-injector if you have one.

Chigger Bites:

After a few days of being attached to the skin, chiggers fall off -- leaving itchy red welts. Over-the-counter products can help relieve itching. See your doctor if the skin appears infected or the welts appear to be spreading.

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