Fitness Facts: Prevention, treatment of bug bites and stings

By Connie Colbert
GCU Director of Health Services

The summer months generally mean more outdoor activity and travel. This also means more bugs and skin-irritating bug bites and stings.

While most bug bites are harmless, some can spread dangerous diseases, such as Zika or Lyme’s disease, or develop into a skin infection from either the bug itself or the human scratching the bite.

Connie Colbert

One of the most important steps you can take against bug bites is prevention. Here are a few tips from the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD) and Healthline.com.

  • Use insect repellent. Choose insect repellent that contains 20-30% DEET (diethyltoluamide) on exposed skin and clothing. Always follow the instructions and reapply as directed. You also can pretreat outer layers of clothing with insect repellent that contains the ingredient Permethrin. If you will be going into a highly wooded area. Don’t forget to allow the clothes to dry for at least two hours before wearing them.
  • Wear appropriate clothing. If you are going out at night or to a densely wooded area, cover exposed skin as much as possible by wearing long-sleeved shirts, pants, socks and closed-toe shoes.
  • Be careful around flowering plants, rubbish and stagnant water and in outdoor areas where food is served.
  • Never disturb insect nests. If a nest is in your house or garden, arranged to have it removed by a pest control company.
  • Avoid camping near water, such as ponds and swamps.
  • Avoid wearing perfume and scented lotion.
  • If you encounter wasps, hornets or bees, remain calm and slowly move away. Do not wave your arms or try to swat them.
  • Use bed nets when outdoors or in countries with increased incidence of malaria.
  • Pay attention to outbreaks by utilizing the CDC website for the most updated recommendations: https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/notices

Even with the best preventative practices, bites and stings still happen. Here are a few tips to treat:

  • First and foremost: If someone shows signs of a severe allergic reaction shortly after the sting or bite (such as difficulty breathing, swelling of face, lips or throat, hives, abdominal cramps), call 911 and seek immediate emergency services.
  • Wash the bite or sting area with soap and water to remove as much venom as possible.
  • Keep the area dry as clean and dry as possible to prevent infection. Cover with a bandage if possible.
  • For painful bites: Take over-the-counter painkillers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Be sure to use as directed on the label.
  • If the insect’s stinger is still embedded in the skin, remove it by gently scraping with a flat-edged object. Avoid using tweezers to remove because squeezing it may release more venom.
  • For itchy bites: Apply an ice pack or an over-the-counter anti-itch cream, such as hydrocortisone. Another alternative is an antihistamine, such as Benadryl, Claritin or Zyrtec. You also may use calamine lotion or a paste of baking soda and water to help relieve itching and pain.
  • Do not scratch the area of a bite or sting. This may increase swelling, itching and risk of infection.
  • If you see swelling: Apply an ice pack or cold compress to the site of the bite.

When a bug bite/sting needs further medical attention:

  • Severe allergic reaction, such as hives, swelling around the face, throat or mouth, shortness of breath or difficulty swallowing: Call 911 and seek medical care immediately.
  • If any redness, swelling or hardening of the skin around the bite gets worse over 24-72 hours, this could indicate a skin infection that requires antibiotic treatment.
  • Develop unusual symptoms, such as fever, body aches or joint pain.

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