Beat the Bugs, Save Your Summer
The heat is on, and the bugs are loving it as much as we are. Here's what you need to know to treat and prevent bug bites so they don't spoil your summer fun.
- MOSQUITOES: If you know someone who seems to be a mosquito magnet, studies have shown that some species may be more attracted to people based on blood type (type O being most attractive), pregnancy, sweat, carbon dioxide emission, gas, and even beer-drinking. Whatever your attractiveness score, mosquitoes are a major annoyance. While most are harmless, some mosquitoes can cause serious illnesses like West Nile virus. Protect yourself against mosquitoes with an insect repellent like DEET, which works best against them. If you've been bitten, treat the itch with cortisone, avoid scratching to a bleed as it can cause infection, and watch for symptoms like weakness, confusion, or fever, which could signify a serious illness.
- TICKS: Dreaded ticks are devastating disease-spreaders and can be responsible for a lot more than Lyme disease. There's Rocky Mountain spotted fever, plus hard-to-spell illnesses like Babesiosis and Ehrlichiosis. Ticks need hours to transmit the illness-causing bacteria they carry, so check yourself, kids, and pets often. If you find a tick attached to you, remove the entire tick with tweezers to ensure you don't come into contact with bacteria. Follow up with soap and water and an alcohol wipe (for those tweezers too), and a dab of a topical antibacterial ointment like Neosporin. Then, watch for any signs of illness like rash, fever, headache, fatigue, or achiness. Call your primary care doctor or see an Urgent Care clinician in person or via telehealth if you think you've been infected.
- CHIGGERS: South Jersey's tiniest skin warriors, these invisible mites live in grasses and attach to your limbs before you even know they're there. Typically, you only recognize you've been bitten when you start itching hours later. Their bites lead to relentless itching and scabbing that can last for weeks. If you've been in an area with tall grass or experience symptoms of chigger bites, treat the affected site with an over-the-counter lice shampoo to stop them in their tracks. Call your doctor or go to Urgent Care to discuss other treatments.
- BEES, WASPS, AND HORNETS: Bee stings often bring on allergic reactions. Hornets, wasps, and yellow jackets don't lose their stingers after they sting and can repeatedly sting, leading to a reaction. Allergic reactions are treated according to their severity. A localized reaction limited to the skin can usually be treated at home by removing the stinger, cleaning the area, applying hydrocortisone cream and ice to the area, and taking an over-the-counter antihistamine. Watch for signs of a severe allergic reaction, such as swelling of the tongue, lips, or throat, chest tightness, or difficulty breathing. If you experience these symptoms, call 911 or go straight to the ER. If you learn you're allergic, your doctor may recommend you carry an Epi-pen, an injectable medication used in emergencies that can save you from a life-threatening reaction.
What can you do to prevent bug bites?
Steer clear of tall grasses and heavily wooded areas—and if you're in them, use an insect repellent and wear high socks, long sleeves, and pants. If it's too hot to cover up, use insect repellent and avoid touching bushes, branches, or any vegetation.
DEET is the most protective insect repellent, and higher concentrations will provide longer protection. Avoid spraying it near your eyes and mouth, and never use it on children younger than six months old. Organic deterrents are also available and may work well for some people.
Also, avoid stagnant water—even puddles or small birdbaths can be mosquito magnets.
Where to go for care depends on the severity of your symptoms:
- Redness and minor sting or itching: self-treat at home, taking an antihistamine like Benadryl, and applying topical ointments to relieve itch and avoid infection.
- Bullseye rash; uncontrollable itching from chiggers: see your primary care doctor or Urgent Care, in person or via telehealth.
- Fatigue, body aches, fever, headache following an insect bite: see your primary care doctor or visit Urgent Care in person or by telehealth.
- For a sudden and severe reaction like throat tightness, tongue or lip swelling, or difficulty breathing: these are signs of a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. Call 911 or go to a hospital emergency room.
Quickly treating your bites and stings may minimize your reaction and irritation. Stock your medicine cabinet with an antihistamine like Benadryl, topical hydrocortisone cream for relief from itching, and a topical antibiotic ointment to help prevent infection.
Get the care you need
A Virtua Primary Care clinician can treat your bug bites – and much more. You can also get care on the spot from anywhere in New Jersey with an Urgent Care Telehealth visit – or walk-in care at one of Virtua's seven convenient urgent care centers throughout South Jersey.When you need emergency care, don't delay. Virtua's emergency rooms are open 24/7 and employ rigorous safety and cleaning protocols to ensure your safety.
Updated July 14, 2022