Insect Bites and Stings: How to Prevent Them and When to Worry

Mosquito sitting on the skin

You’re out enjoying a wonderful picnic supper with your family when — ouch! You’re been bitten by a bug. Suddenly you went from having dinner to becoming dinner. Most insect bites and stings are a mild annoyance, but some mosquitos, ticks, and spiders carry disease, which can lead to serious medical problems. What can you do to protect yourself and, if you’re bitten, when should you see your doctor?

Deer Tick

Where: Mainly northeast and upper midwest

May spread: Lyme disease

Prevent it: Deer ticks are transmitted by deer, so avoid tall, grassy, and wooded areas. Wear long pants and sleeves. Use insect repellent such as DEET. Check your entire body for ticks as soon as you go inside, even if you’ve taken these precautions. A tick needs to be attached to your skin for 36 to 48 hours before the spirochete bacteria enters your body. Prompt removal helps prevent Lyme disease.

Call a doctor if: You see a bite that looks like a bulls-eye — concentric circles. Other symptoms include significant fatigue and body aches. Early treatment frequently has a positive outcome.


Dog Tick

Where: All states, but mainly North Carolina, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee and Missouri.

May spread: Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF)

Prevent it: Dog ticks are transmitted by free-roaming dogs; they can also be found in woods and areas with high grass. Use appropriate insect repellent and wear pants and long sleeves. It can take a tick anywhere from 10 minutes to two hours to prepare to feed, so it’s important to do a body check as soon as you get inside.

Call a doctor if: You have RMSF symptoms, including a fever, severe headache, muscle and joint pain, nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain or a red, blotchy rash that starts at your ankles and wrists and spreads across your body within a week of being bitten.


Bees and Wasps

Where: Anywhere in the U.S. These flying insects are most active during the hottest parts of the day.

May spread: The stings don’t spread disease, but they can become infected causing conditions like cellulitis.

Prevent it: Wasps are attracted to food, so be sure to put it away as soon as you’re finished eating. Avoid wearing cologne, since wasps are attracted to flowery scents.

Call a doctor if: A person has an allergic reaction, called anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is life-threatening (many people who are allergic die within an hour of being stung) and requires emergent treatment with an epinephrine injection. Call 911 immediately if you don’t have the injection kit. Even if you do have an epinephrine pen, anyone having an anaphylactic reaction should get to the hospital as soon as possible.



Where: Anywhere with stagnant water where mosquitos breed.

May spread: In the lower 48 states, primarily West Nile virus

Prevent it: Remove standing water, keep gutters clean and clear areas with heavy underbrush. Wear pants and long sleeves between dusk and sunrise, when mosquitos are most active. Use insect repellent. Most people who become infected with West Nile virus recover, although they may feel significant fatigue and weakness for several weeks or months.

Call a doctor if: Symptoms of infection develop, including a fever, fatigue, confusion, headache, body and joint pain, vomiting, and diarrhea.



Where: Places where they can stay dry and sheltered: Woodpiles, attics, and basements.

May spread: Most spider bites are harmless. Bites from venomous spiders such as the black widow and brown recluse spider may require immediate medical attention.

Prevent it: Wear pants and long sleeves if you’re working around a woodpile or in an attic or basement. Look for webs and don’t stick your hand anywhere blindly.

Call a doctor if: The bite becomes red, swollen and increasingly painful, or you develop other symptoms such as a lesion, fever, muscle pain, chills and sweating. Bites from the black widow spider cause severe abdominal pain and cramping. A recluse spider bite can cause a skin lesion requiring immediate medical attention.

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