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Bug Bites and Stings

What’s the difference between insect bites and insect stings? A bite is when an insect (like a mosquito, flea, or bedbug) uses its mouth to break a person’s skin, usually so it can feed. Insect bites usually itch. A sting is when an insect uses another body part, such as a barbed stinger at its tail end, to pierce the skin and inject venom (like a poison). They usually do this in self-defense. Stings are more painful than bites.

Bites and stings usually are just annoying, causing temporary discomfort and pain, but no serious or lasting health problems. Sometimes, though, they can cause infections that need quick medical treatment and allergic reactions that can be serious, even fatal.

So parents should know the signs of an infection or allergic reaction, and when to get medical care. Tell all caregivers if a child has any history of problems so they know what to do if a child gets a bite or sting.

Find out more about:

Insect Stings Instruction Sheet

How Can We Prevent Bites and Stings?

Here are some ways to protect your family from insect bites and stings:

  • Avoid mosquito bites by staying away from areas where mosquitoes breed, such as still pools or ponds, during hot weather. Remove standing water from birdbaths, buckets, etc. Try to stay inside when mosquitoes are most active (dawn and dusk). Apply insect repellent when kids go outside.
  • When in tick country, stay in the center of trails, avoiding woody areas with high grass. Check kids for ticks every few hours and as soon as you come inside. Remove any you find right away. The most important places to check are behind the ears, on the scalp, on the back of the neck, in the armpits, in the groin area, and behind the knees. Have kids shower as soon as they come in from outdoors. Check your pets when they come inside too. Use tick products on pets to prevent them from bites.
  • Use insect repellent when spending time outdoors camping, hiking, etc. Repellents that contain 10% to 30% DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) are approved for mosquitoes, ticks, and some other bugs. Repellents that contain picaridin (KBR 3023) or oil of lemon eucalyptus (p-menthane 3,8-diol or PMD) are effective against mosquitoes. Follow the instructions carefully. Check what ages the product is appropriate for, and don't overuse it — using more than is needed won't provide any extra protection. Reapply insect repellent according to the directions after swimming.
  • When you or your kids are in wooded areas, tuck clothes in and keep as covered up as possible. Tuck pants into socks and shirts into pants. Wear shoes and socks when walking on grass, even it's just for a minute. Bees and wasps can sting unprotected feet.
  • Wear gloves when gardening.
  • Don't disturb bee or wasp nests.
  • Don't swat at buzzing insects — they will sting if they feel threatened.
  • Be aware that spiders might be hiding in undisturbed piles of wood, seldom-opened boxes, or corners behind furniture, and proceed with caution.
  • Prevent flea infestations by treating your house (including all carpets, furniture, and pets) regularly during the warmer months. Vacuuming often also can help.

Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date Reviewed: 01-07-2021

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