Insect Bites & Stings

Jan 27, 2021

Insect bites and stings are so common that nearly everyone experiences one at some point. For the most part, they cause only mild discomfort, and some bites and stings go unnoticed until an itchy bump forms on the skin.

Bed bugs, mosquitoes, fleas, midges, bees, wasps, and some spiders are well known for their bite or stings leaving behind painful itchy red welts. Some of these pests are seasonal e.g., fleas, mosquitoes and wasps are primarily active during the warmer months while others like bed bugs are active all year round. The reason for the bites is because human or animal blood is their primary source of food and hence for their survival, they are always looking for food sources around and hence bite people. Pests like spiders and fire ants, bees, and wasps bite/sting out of self-defence.

How to identify which pest bite you? In order to determine which bug bite you, it is important to immediately see which bug is around you and have bitten you. Check its main characters e.g., number of legs, shape, size, colour and try to figure out if it resembles a spider (8 legs) or a bed bug (small reddish flat bug) or a flea (small hoping insect) or something else. Its appearance will help you determine which bug bite you are suffering from.

General Symptoms: Usually insect bites cause localized swelling, pain and itching. Some people experience severe allergic reactions called anaphylaxis, including tongue and throat swelling, wheezing, dizziness, a life-threatening shortness of breath and drop in blood pressure.

Prevention: In order to keep biting and stinging pests away, follow these tips:

  1. Avoid wearing sweet-smelling perfumes and colognes outside
  2. Don’t leave sweet-smelling food or drinks outside
  3. Be sure to clean up trash, crumbs and spills immediately
  4. Eliminate standing water which can serve as breeding grounds for mosquitoes around houses or commercial buildings

Treatment: If you are bitten or stung, try to avoid scratching it as it will only increases histamine response. If stung, carefully remove the stinger as quickly as possible to limit the amount of venom injected. Wash the sites with warm water and soap and apply a cold compress to constrict blood vessels and stop the venom from spreading. Seek your doctor or call 111 if you have a reaction to a sting or bite. The best remedies are antihistamines and anti-inflammatories, and one percent hydrocortisone cream can also be used.

Identifying different bug bites

  1. Mosquito bite

Mosquitoes are one of the best-known summer pests because of their pesky nature. They are often found near water source as they need water for breeding.

Bite Symptom: Mosquitoes are known to bite humans, leaving red, itchy bumps on the skin.

Unique Fact: Only female mosquitoes bite and feed on humans. They hunt for food by detecting body heat and the carbon dioxide humans exhale.

Tips to prevent mosquito infestation and bites- link to mosquito page

  1. White Tail Spider Bite

White tail spider bite is among the most feared kinds of spider bites. The bite can cause a number of symptoms such as localized pain and swelling, occurrence of a reddened patch, irritation, and itching. Sometimes, additional symptoms such as headaches, malaise, nausea and vomiting may also be noticed.

Some of the signs and symptoms of white- tailed bites are listed as follows:

  • White tailed spider bites are often noticed on the legs and arms
  • There may be localized redness that is accompanied by inflammation, pain, and itchiness of the affected area. The pain is however short-lived and may go away after a short period of time.
  • On occasions the location of the white- tailed spider bite may elicit a reddish bump. Scratching can cause the skin to tear up and result in an open wound which is then susceptible to secondary infections from bacteria.

Spider prevention and Control- link to spider page

  1. Bed bug bites

Bed bugs are excellent hitchhikers and feed on human blood. They will hide in luggage, purses, laptop cases and other personal belongings in an effort to find a human food supply. Bed bugs are often found in close proximity to bedding and mattresses.

Bite symptom: Bed bugs are known to bite humans, especially on the legs, arms and other body parts exposed while sleeping. While some people may develop red, itchy welts, others will show no signs at all. They don’t transmit diseases, but people can develop an allergic reaction to the bed bug’s saliva, which acts as a numbing agent.

Unique Fact: Bed bugs can ingest seven times their weight in blood.

Bed Bug bite prevention and Control

  1. Flea bites

Fleas are parasites that feed on the blood of any warm-blooded host. The most common type of flea is the cat flea, which often feasts on cats, dogs and humans.

Bite symptom: Fleas bites often results in painful, itchy red bumps. Their saliva can also cause serious flea allergy dermatitis in pets. Flea bites on humans are accompanied by red blotchy skin. Most people are unaware that fleas have bitten them. However, others may develop allergic to the flea bite saliva that can cause intense itching, red and swollen welts and bite marks in groups or clusters that may take some weeks to heal.

Unique Fact: Fleas can jump up to 8 inches high, or 150 times their own height.

Flea bite prevention and Control

  1. Biting Midges

Biting midge are the smallest of the blood-feeding flies. They are commonly, but incorrectly, referred to as sand flies. Biting midges are so small (1.0mm – 3.0mm) that they often go unobserved by the individual being bitten.

Biting Midge

Midge Bites

Bite symptom: Midges seem to affect some people more than others. Some people react to the bites extremely badly while others only get mild irritation. In general, the bites are painful and may cause small red itchy bumps/welts and blisters. These bumps and blisters can become infected or cause skin inflammation, or dermatitis. Carbon dioxide in our breath attract midges to humans and they can detect it from 200 meters away. Persistent itchy bites but without any insect to be spotted is one of the easier ways to tell that you have been bitten by a midge. Sometimes the itch is persistent and can continue for hours at a stretch.

Unique fact: Only the females feed on the blood and hence bites humans. The female midges bites humans in order to get protein from the blood, necessary for egg laying and reproductive cycles.

Midge bites look more or less like mosquito bites.

Biting midge bite prevention and Control

Stinging insects

  1. Wasps

There are two species of pest wasps in New Zealand that are known for nasty stings- Vespula species (common and German wasps) and Polistes species (paper wasps). Wasps are slow to sting, unless their nests are threatened. They are considered beneficial insects because they control many pest insect species. However, if their nest is located near a structure, care should be taken and a professional pest controller should be called to identify the type of stinging insect (like wasps or other dangerous stingers), and to determine the best way to eliminate the threat to your family. It is not advised to attempt to remove a stinging insect nest on your own, doing so can be extremely dangerous.

Difference between a wasp and a bee

Wasps have a thinner waist and less body hair compared with bees. Despite their differences, one thing they do have in common is their ability to inflict a painful sting. The good news is that wasps aren’t always aggressive, and they typically only sting when they feel threatened. If you stay out of their way, they’ll stay out of yours.

Wasp sting symptoms: Wasp stings are venomous, so if one stings you, you’ll know right away. With a wasp sting, there is likely to be a small puncture wound with a raised welt around the site of pain and burning. The wound may even have a drop of blood at its centre, indicating where the stinger entered your body. These stings cause a local reaction that can feel like sharp burning in the area of the sting.

Symptoms include: Pain and burning, Redness, Swelling, Itching.

Local reactions are mild, and most people don’t need medical attention for few wasp stings but if you have been attacked by many wasps or if you are allergic to insect stings urgent medical care should be taken. Some people experience a slight drop in blood pressure, causing light dizziness.

Some basic tips in case of a wasp sting:

  • Wash the area with soap and water
  • Apply a cold compress to relieve pain and swelling.
  • Wrap the cold pack in a towel and place it on the sting for about 10 minutes on, 10 minutes off
  • If you’re stung in the leg or arm, keep this part of your body elevated
  • Take an antihistamine if you have a mild reaction
  • Keep the wound clean and dry to prevent infection
  • Cover with a bandage if desired
  • Use hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion if itching or skin irritation becomes bothersome
  • Baking soda and colloidal oatmeal are soothing to the skin and can be used during a bath or through medicated skin creams

Anaphylaxis

In case of severe allergic reaction to wasp venom (also called as anaphylaxis) with any of the following symptoms:

  • severe swelling of the face, lips, or throat
  • hives or itching in areas of the body not affected by the sting
  • breathing difficulties, such as wheezing or gasping
  • dizziness
  • sudden drop in blood pressure
  • light headedness
  • loss of consciousness
  • nausea or vomiting
  • diarrhoea
  • stomach cramps
  • weak or racing pulse

Call your doctor or dial 111 immediately if you have any of the above reactions to a sting.

  1. Bumble and honey bees

Bumble bees and honey bees are considered beneficial insects because they pollinate flowers. However, they can sting. If a nest is in or near a structure, then control is necessary.

Bee sting symptom: For most people, a bee sting is just a nuisance with temporary sharp pain, swelling, redness, warmth, and itching at the sting site, but no serious complications.  But If someone is allergic to bees, or get stung multiple times, bee stings can be more problematic and even life-threatening.

Mild allergic reactions may cause extreme redness and increased swelling at the sting site.

Severe allergic reactions to a bee sting may cause:

  • hives or itching in areas of the body not affected by the sting
  • pale skin
  • severe itching
  • swelling of the tongue and throat
  • difficulty breathing
  • rapid pulse
  • nausea and vomiting
  • diarrhoea
  • dizziness
  • loss of consciousness

If you have any signs of a severe reaction to a bee sting, get emergency help. You may be experiencing anaphylactic shock, a life-threatening allergic reaction.

Wasp Sting vs. Bee Sting

Wasp and bee stings can cause similar symptoms, but the treatment measures are slightly different. While a bee can only sting once because its stinger becomes stuck in the skin of its victim, a wasp can sting more than once during an attack. Wasp stingers remain intact.

Tips to treat bee stings in case of low to mild reactions

  • If you are not experiencing any signs of a severe allergic reaction, you can treat most bee stings at home.
  • If a honeybee stings you, remove the stinger immediately with the edge of your fingernail. This helps curb the amount of toxins released into your skin.
  • Wash the sting site with soap and water.
  • Icing the sting site is the most effective way to reduce venom absorption. It also can help reduce swelling.
  • Taking an antihistamine in tablet form and/or pain relievers such as ibuprofen can also provide relief of symptoms mild allergic reaction
  • A paste made of baking soda and water can help neutralize bee venom to reduce pain, itching, and swelling. Apply a thick layer of baking soda paste to the affected area. Cover the paste with a bandage. Leave on for at least 15 minutes and re-apply as needed.
  • Apple cider vinegar helps neutralize bee venom. Soak the sting site in a basin of diluted apple cider vinegar for at least 15 minutes. You can also soak a bandage or cloth in the vinegar and then apply it to the sting site

Unique Fact: When a honeybee stings you, its stinger is released into your skin. This ultimately kills the honeybee. Honeybees are the only type of bees that die after they sting. Wasps and other species don’t lose their stingers. They may sting you more than once.