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Bites-insect - Preventing insect bites and stings

NHS Choices Medical Reference

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There are a number of precautions that you can take to avoid being bitten or stung by insects. It is particularly important to follow this advice if you have had a bad reaction to an insect bite or sting in the past.

Some of the precautions that you can take to minimise your risk of being bitten or stung by an insect are listed below.

  • Move away slowly without panicking if you encounter wasps, hornets or bees. Do not wave your arms around or swat at them.
  • Cover exposed skin. If you are outside at a time of day when insects are particularly active, such as sunrise or sunset, cover your skin by wearing long sleeves and trousers.
  • Wear shoes when outdoors.
  • Apply insect repellent, particularly in summer or early autumn when stings are most likely to occur. This should be applied to exposed areas of skin. Repellents that contain diethyltoluamide (DEET) are considered most effective.
  • Avoid using products with strong perfumes such as soaps, shampoos and deodorants, because they can attract insects.
  • Avoid flowering plants, outdoor areas where food is served, rubbish and compost areas. Regularly and carefully remove any fallen fruit in your garden, and keep a well-fitting lid on any dustbins.
  • Never disturb insect nests. If a nest is in or near your house, arrange to have it removed (see the GOV.UK website's section on pest control services for information about how your local council can help). Wasps build nests in sheltered areas including trees and roof spaces.
  • Avoid camping near water, such as ponds and swamps, because mosquitoes and horseflies are commonly found near water.
  • Keep food and drink covered when eating or drinking outside, particularly sweet things. Wasps or bees can also get into open drink bottles or cans you are drinking from.
  • Keep doors and windows closed or put thin netting or door beads over them to prevent insects getting inside the house. Also keep the windows of your car closed to stop insects getting inside.

Avoiding ticks

Ticks are small arachnids mainly found in woodland areas. They attach to your skin, suck your blood and can be responsible for Lyme disease.

The best ways to avoid ticks include:

  • being aware of ticks and the areas where they usually live
  • wearing appropriate clothing in tick-infested areas (a long-sleeve shirt and trousers tucked into your socks)
  • wearing light-coloured fabrics that may help you spot a tick on your clothes
  • using insect repellents
  • inspecting your skin for ticks, particularly at the end of the day, including your head, neck and skin folds (armpits, groin, and waistband)
  • checking your children's head and neck areas, including their scalp
  • making sure ticks are not brought home on your clothes
  • checking pets do not bring ticks indoors in their fur

It is also important to remove any ticks you find as soon as possible. Read more about treating insect bites and stings for information on the safest way to remove a tick.

Infestation

If you are bitten by fleas, mites or bedbugs, you may have an infestation in your home. Try to find the source of the infestation and then take steps to eliminate it.

Signs of an infestation

The following are signs of an infestation:

  • fleas or flea faeces (stools) in your animal's fur or bedding are a sign of fleas
  • crusting on your dog's fur is a sign of fleas
  • excessive scratching and grooming are a sign of fleas in your cat
  • dandruff (flakes of skin) on your cat or dog is a sign of mites
  • spots of blood on your bed sheets are a sign of bedbugs
  • an unpleasant almond smell is a sign of bedbugs

If you are unsure whether your pet has fleas, speak to your veterinary surgeon.

Eliminating an infestation

Once you have identified the cause of the infestation, you will need to eliminate it.

For flea infestations:

  • treat the animal, its bedding, household carpets and soft furnishings with an insecticide
  • thoroughly vacuum your carpets and soft furnishings

For mite infestations, seek advice from your vet as aggressive treatment is required.

For bedbug infestations, your home will need to be thoroughly treated with an insecticide by a reputable pest control company. See the GOV.UK website's section on pest control services for more information about how your local council can help with an infestation.

Read more about bedbugs including how to spot them and getting rid of them. 

Travelling abroad

Seek medical advice before travelling to a tropical area where there is a risk of catching malaria. You may need to take antimalarial tablets to avoid becoming infected.

Read more information about preventing malaria.

When you reach your destination, make sure your accommodation has insect-proof screen doors and windows that close properly. Sleeping under a mosquito net and spraying rooms with insecticide will also help stop you being bitten.

Medical Review: June 18, 2012
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