Insect bites

What are they?

Raised and itchy red bumps that show some little sucker has feasted on your blood. Mostly just irritating and unsightly, insect bites can also leave you open to nasty diseases such as yellow fever malaria if these are an issue in the region where you are.

What causes them?

Midges and mosquitos, the most common biting insects, are usually most active from dusk to dawn, seeking blood meals to help them develop their eggs (it’s always the females that bite).  They seem to be attracted by smell, which is why some people get bitten more than others. As they bite, they release their saliva and it’s this that creates the irritation on your skin. 

How can you avoid getting insect bites?

Look out for midges and mosquitos anywhere there is standing water, advises Richard Moseley of the British Pest Control Association. “They usually breed in marshy conditions, which is why there are so many midges in Scotland, where it’s cooler than the Southeast of England. If you’ve got a mosquito problem in your garden, you need to remove the breeding site – gutters should be cleaned regularly, and if you have a pond it should have some kind of waterfall or fan to make the surface tension break.”

If you know you’re in an area where you’re going to become an all-you-can-eat buffet for bugs, cover up as much as possible, ideally with light-coloured clothing. Some people swear that avoiding perfume or aftershave puts biters off the scent; seasoned travellers often use repellents containing DEET, a yellowish oil that was originally developed by the US Army for use in jungle warfare (ie, it’s good stuff). 

“I would use an insect repellent with 50% DEET, which will last for 12 hours and is not as much of a skin irritant as 100% DEET. Buzz Off is a good product,” advises Angela Inglis, the nurse at Superdrug on The Strand, London W1. “If you are applying insect repellent during the day or with sun cream, apply the sun cream first leave for 20 minutes for the cream to sink into your skin and then apply insect repellent. If both are applied at the same time they may cancel each other out.”

For kids, try a repellent with a lower (10-30%) concentration of DEET, natural repellents such as lavender or citronella oil - or they may have fun with Mosibands

The best treatments for insect bites

“The most common reactions to bites are localised swelling, redness and irritation,” says Angela Inglis of Superdrug. “Itching causes a natural histamine to be released, which inflames the area and increases an itching sensation. To prevent this avoid scratching and take an antihistamine [GTG uses Clarityn or Piriton] or use a topical cream with hydrocortisone in to soothe redness caused by itching.”

Try to resist the urge to scratch as much as possible or you could cause an infection (see below).

In some cases, a bite may cause an immediate and severe reaction. “Swelling around the lips and in the throat will be the first sign of any serious reactions and will need urgent medical attention,” says Angela.

What to do about an infected insect bite

If your bite is increasing in growth and redness and starts to ooze, you could have a problem, says Angela. “If there is heat coming from it and it appears pussy and angry, consult a GP for course of antibiotics.”

Don’t let the bed bugs bite

While we’ve mostly focused on flying insects, the Pest Control Association reveal that there has been a large increase in bed bug activity in Britain of late. “They largely disappeared in the 1950s but since the increase in international travel they are making a comeback, traveling on luggage or second-hand furniture,” says Richard Moseley.

“They can crawl quite considerable distances so infestation can spread through a number of rooms. If you get bed bug activity, you’ll notice blood spotting on the bedclothes, arms and shoulders, deposits of dark faeces and possibly even the insects themselves. Bed bugs are notoriously difficult to treat, though, so you need to contact a BCPA member.”

Emma Bartley

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