Mosquit-Oh No: What to Know About Bug Bites
Spending the days participating in outdoor activities is what summertime is all about, but with warm weather comes mosquitoes and the inevitable bug bites. Don’t let these pesky little insects put a damper on your family’s fun. Learn how mosquito bites affect the body and which diseases these insects can spread so you can be prepared when you spend time outdoors.
Mosquitoes are insects that rely on blood as part of their diet and need water to breed. While severe mosquito-borne illnesses are rare in the United States, some mosquitoes do carry and transmit parasites and viruses such as malaria and West Nile. “If you develop one of these diseases from a mosquito bite, you may experience more severe symptoms compared to those associated with a common bug bite, and you should visit a doctor immediately,” says Graciela Villadoniga, MD, pediatrician at CHI St. Joseph Health Pediatrics Bryan. The symptoms of these illnesses can include fever, rash, headaches, and swollen lymph nodes.
Mosquitoes “bite” you by inserting their straw-like mouth into your skin to suck your blood. As they do this, some of their saliva enters your body. Their saliva contains proteins that your body recognizes as foreign objects. In response, your immune system releases histamine, which allows white blood cells to find their way to the bite. The histamine causes the itching sensation you usually feel. Kids tend to feel the effects of histamine more than adults do. Typically, the area around the bite gets red and swollen the first day and gradually resolves as the days go by.
It can be all too tempting to scratch the itch. However, irritating the bite will cause further inflammation of the area and an increase in itchiness. Resist the urge and choose a healthier remedy instead. If the bite itches, you can place a cold compress on it to numb the sensation. There are also oral, over-the-counter antihistamines you can take, as well as anti-itch creams such as calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream that you can apply topically.
Like any skin injury, insect bites can become infected. Mosquito bites that become infected get bigger, harder, and redder over the course of days. Some children can develop a fever or even have pus draining from the area. If this happens, contact your healthcare provider. While rare, some people may experience a more severe allergic reaction and have difficulty breathing or experience swelling of areas of the body beyond the actual insect bite. This can be a sign of anaphylaxis, and the affected person should call 911 or seek emergency medical care immediately.
There are steps you can take to prevent bug bites. You can avoid activities at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active, stay away from stagnant water, and drain sources of standing water around your home. Wear light clothing that covers your arms and legs to minimize exposed skin, and apply insect repellent. The most common insect repellents contain DEET, which is considered safe for infants and children if applied as recommended to clothing or exposed skin. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that products for children should not contain more than 30 percent DEET. Other products considered safe contain picaridin or OLE (oil of lemon eucalyptus).
If you experience a life-threatening allergic reaction to a bug bite, visit the trusted team at a CHI St. Joseph Health emergency room. If you are concerned about a local skin infection after an insect bite or if you notice fever, body aches, or headaches after a bite, contact your primary care physician or pediatrician at CHI St. Joseph Health to get the care you need.