If you spend any time out of doors, you have almost certainly had some experience with either insect bites or stings.  In most parts of the United States, the most common type of bite comes from the mosquito. Chiggers, deer flies, black flies, and ticks bite and cause (usually) minor irritation. Ticks and mosquitoes can also carry some diseases.  Bee stings are also relatively common throughout the US, and spider bites happen all over, too.  In certain parts of the country, there are specific bugs to watch out for, like scorpions in the desert Southwest.

Mosquito, fly, and chigger bites are usually harmless.  They cause a little redness and swelling, and are usually accompanied by itching.  Use a product such as 3M’s Ultrathon line or OFF! brand insect repellent.  Bites can be avoided by wearing long-sleeve shirts and long pants.  Adding a clothing treatment of premethrin can reduce the chance of insect bites even further.  These treatments last for multiple weeks and can last through multiple launderings.  Sunscreen can be applied in conjunction with DEET insect repellent, and should be applied first.  After the initial application of both sunscreen and insect repellent, sunscreen can be applied over the repellent every few hours.  DEET-containing insect repellent does not need to be reapplied frequently, although non-DEET repellents might. Be sure to follow the directions on the label for any repellent product.  More information about DEET can be found on the Illinois Dept. of Public Health website.

Tick bites are more problematical than many other bug bites, since ticks can carry Lyme disease ore Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.  Prevention of tick bites is similar to preventing mosquito bites: Long sleeves, long pants, insect repellent.  Tuck pant cuffs into socks to make it harder for them to get onto your skin.  After being out in nature, especially if you’ve been in high grass or wooded areas, check your skin carefully for ticks.  If you find a tick on you and it has not embedded, remove it right away.  If it is embedded, use a pair of tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible and gently pull it out.  Put it in a small jar so that you can bring it to the doctor if you start showing signs of illness.  If you cannot remove the tick, see your doctor.

Spider bites are usually minor, but can be dangerous if they come from either a Brown Recluse or Black Widow.  Both of these spiders reside across most of the US, but are most common in the Southern states.  That being said, true spider bites are relatively uncommon.  Most spiders are not able to give a human a significant bite, and usually only do that as a last-resort of self defense.  Treatment for spider bites includes cleaning the bite with soap and water, taking an antihistamine such as Benadryl, Sudafed or Actifed, and taking a pain reliever if it hurts too much.  Applying a cold compress can help with pain and swelling.  Using insect repellent can help prevent spider bites, as can long sleeves and long pants.

Scorpion stings, while painful, are not usually dangerous in the US.  Adults do not usually require medical care, and can manage the sting at home.  Children, especially small or young ones, should be seen by a doctor right away, since scorpion stings can be fatal to small children.  Scorpions tend to hide along rocks or in trees during the day and hunt at night.  Treatment for scorpion stings is almost the same as spider bites: Wash the wound with soap and water, take pain relievers as needed, use cold compresses.

With any insect bite or sting, see your doctor right away if you start showing any of the following:

  • A rash
  • A fever
  • A stiff neck
  • Abdominal pain
  • Muscle aches
  • Joint pain and inflammation
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Muscle spasms or twitching

Illinois Dept. of Public Health: DEET Insect Repellents
Mayo Clinic: First aid for Tick Bites
Mayo Clinic: Lyme Disease
Mayo Clinic: Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
Mayo Clinic: Spider Bites
DesertUSA.com: Brown Recluse Spider
DesertUSA.com: Black Widow Spiders
emedicinehealth.com: Scorpion Sting