Tips for avoiding insect bites

Biting Insects

There are thousands of species of biting insects worldwide including mosquitoes, ticks, gnats and biting flies. Mosquitoes alone are represented by almost 3,500 species.  Biting insects are present in almost every region of the world.  Insect biting behavior is complex and varies significantly between species, within species and under different environmental conditions.  One example is female mosquitoes are responsible for almost all bites as they seek a protein meal to assist in egg production.  Biting insects are not only a nuisance causing painful or itching bites, but also can transmit serious diseases such as Malaria, Dengue Fever, Yellow Fever, West Nile Virus, forms of Encephalitis and Lyme Disease. Disease transmission usually occures when an insect bites an infected disease host (typically an animal) and ingests a pathogen (bacteria, virus, protozoan).  If the insect then bites a human it injects the pathogen resulting in exposure and possible infection.  Worldwide, estimates of as many as 700 million people are infected annually by mosquitoes.  Malaria alone kills 3 million people anually.  While many of these diseases are associated with tropical regions West Nile Virus, Lyme Disease, Encephalitis and Dengue Fever are becoming more prevalent in certain regions of the U.S.  Protection from biting insects can be achieved by avoiding infested areas, wearing protective clothing and using insect repellent.

Mosquitoes and Gnats

  • Avoid infested areas.
  • Stay indoors at sunrise, sunset and early in the evening when mosquitoes and gnats are most active.
  • Keep mosquitoes and gnats away from exposed skin by wearing long-sleeved shirts, long pants and socks made of heavy enough fabric to prevent biting through material.
  • Tuck shirts into pants and pants into socks to cover gaps in your clothing.
  • Wear light colored clothes.
  • Cover all gaps in walls, doors and windows to prevent mosquitoes and gnats from entering
  • Make sure window and door screens are in good working order
  • Completely cover baby carriers and beds with fine mesh insect netting.
  • Apply insect repellent, such as Deter, to all exposed skin at least every four hours while outdoors.


  • Reduce time spent in tick infested areas, and avoid contact with vegetation.
  • Walk in the center of trails to avoid contact with adjacent vegetation.
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants and high boots.
  • Tuck shirts into pants and pants into socks to cover gaps in your clothing where ticks can enter.
  • Wear light colored clothing.
  • Apply insect repellent, such as Deter, to all exposed skin at least every four hours while outdoors.
  • Once indoors, check your entire body for ticks once indoors;  promptly remove attached ticks with tweezers without squeezing them.


Facts About Insect Bites

Bites from Mosquitoes, Gnats, Biting Flies, Fleas, Chiggers

Bites from the above insects often result in redness and swelling which may appear from 1 to 24 hours following the bite.  The reaction is primarily due to proteins in the insect’s saliva.  The protein causes a localized reaction which results in swelling, redness, pain and/or itching. Symptoms will typically last for a few days and occasionally up to a week. The bite can be treated with a topical anti-inflammatory/anti-infective agent. The bite should not be itched as this will often make the reaction worse, and can promote infection.  Some insects such as mosquitoes are effective transmitters of serious diseases such as West Nile virus, malaria, dengue fever, yellow fever, encephalitis, etc.  If flu-like symptoms, headache, fever or rash develop within the days following a mosquito bite from an area suspected of harboring mosquito born disease seek immediate medical attention.  In rare cases, more severe allergic reaction can occur. The allergic reaction is generally localized, but can be more extensive resulting in swelling of the affected extremity.  In very rare cases, a more serious systemic reaction called anaphylaxis can occur.  Signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis may include: coughing; wheezing; difficulty breathing; shock (circulatory system is not providing enough blood to vital organs); swelling of lips, tongue, eye lids or throat; lightheadedness and confusion; nausea; diarrhea; hives and reddening of the skin. If any of these symptoms develop following an insect bite or sting immediate medical treatment should be sought.

Bites from Spiders or Fire Ants and stings from Bees, Wasps, Hornets

Generally bites, or stings, from the above insects result in a reaction to toxins injected during the bite/sting. The toxic reaction is generally localized resulting in pain, redness and swelling.  Symptoms may persist for several days.  Treatment with over the counter products are usually sufficient to help relieve discomfort.  The affected area should be kept clean, and you should watch for any signs of infection.  If a bite from a more venomous spider such as a black widow, brown recluse or scorpion is suspected, or if swelling and pain continue to worsen, consult a physician.  In rare cases, more serious allergic reactions, including anaphylaxis (described above) can result from any sting or bite.  If an allergic reaction is suspected immediate medical attention should be sought.