Should I Worry About Mosquito Bites?

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MNT Knowledge Center

Mosquitoes are small flying insects. Female mosquitoes have a long, piercing mouthpiece, with which they pierce a host’s skin to consume their blood.

Blood serves as a source of protein for their eggs. Male mosquitoes don’t have the ability to bite as they have no requirement for blood.

Mosquito bites aren’t just annoying. As they can spread serious and infectious disease, mosquito bites pose a threat to our health.

Contents of this article:

  1. Mosquito bites: Signs and symptoms
  2. Preventing mosquito bites
  3. What to know when traveling abroad
  4. Diseases spread by mosquitoes
  5. Treatments and remedies for mosquito bites

Mosquito bites: Signs and symptoms

When a female mosquito bites, it extracts blood and injects saliva into the skin. This saliva contains proteins that prevent blood from clotting and activate a mild immune response in many people.

A mosquito feeds on human skin.
Mosquito bites often leave round, red bumps and an itching sensation.

As a result, people may notice the telltale signs of a mosquito bite shortly after being bitten. A round, red bump with a dot in the middle that is usually accompanied by an itching sensation.

Other signs of a mosquito bite include:

  • Dark spots that resemble bruising
  • Swelling or redness
  • Small blisters in place of hard bumps

Multiple bumps are also common. These indicate that a mosquito pierced the skin in more than one location, or that the person was bitten by more than one insect.

Children and people with weakened immune systems can experience extra symptoms such as hives, swollen glands, and low-grade fever.

In general, the symptoms experienced become less severe with additional bites. This is because the body slowly becomes used to the bites.

According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology (AAAAI), a mosquito bite may cause anaphylaxis in rare cases. Anaphylaxis is a potentially life-threatening condition characterized by throat swelling, hives, faintness, or wheezing. Anaphylaxis requires urgent medical attention.

Are you at increased risk of being bitten?

Female mosquitoes tend to have a preference for biting some people over others. The exact reasons for this are not yet fully known, however.

It is understood that carbon dioxide is one of the biggest attractors, causing mosquitoes to travel from up to 35 meters away to feed on their chosen prey. Some people, including those who are overweight or pregnant, naturally give off more carbon dioxide than others.

Body heat, movement, and body odors such as sweat and lactic acid also play a role in attracting mosquitoes.

Some research suggests that beer drinkers are at a higher risk of being bitten by mosquitoes.

Preventing mosquito bites

When it comes to mosquito bites, prevention is always better than the cure. This is especially true due to the risk of disease that comes with a bite.

Insect repellent is sprayed on an arm.
Insect repellent sprays are useful for keeping mosquitoes away when outdoors.

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advise that mosquitoes need water to breed. Removing sources of standing water around the home and garden can reduce the number of mosquitoes in the area.

Using screens and netting, covering up when outdoors, and avoiding wooded and grassy areas will further reduce the risk of bites. Bright clothing, perfumes, and scented beauty products should also be avoided.

The use of insect repellent may be necessary when spending time in wooded areas or exercising outdoors. These activities can naturally increase carbon dioxide emissions and bodily odors.

Some effective repellents, endorsed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), include:

DEET

In use since 1957, DEET is one of the most commonly used chemical-based mosquito repellents. Numerous studies show it to be the most effective on the market.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), DEET keeps mosquitoes at bay for between 2 and 12 hours, depending on the percentage of DEET in the product used.

However, some research indicates DEET may be becoming less effective.

DEET is available in various forms such as liquids, sprays, lotions, and wristbands. When using these products, people should always follow the directions on the label.

Picaridin

Picaridin is a newer insect repellent. Working in the same way as DEET, it prevents the mosquito from recognizing its prey.

Unlike DEET, picaridin does not have a strong smell and is less likely to irritate the skin. At a strength of 20 percent, this chemical is effective against mosquitoes for 8 to 14 hours.

Oil of lemon eucalyptus

Oil of lemon eucalyptus may be a good option for those who prefer a chemical-free repellent. Repel and Off! Botanicals are examples of products containing this natural oil.

What to know when traveling abroad

People who are planning a vacation should get to know the health risks and spread of mosquito-borne illness at their intended destination.

They should speak with their healthcare provider before traveling. There may be optional or mandatory vaccinations or medications available against certain diseases, such as yellow fever or malaria.

While abroad, people should take all the precautions outlined above to prevent mosquito bites. It is important to pack an effective insect repellent.

Where possible, travelers should choose accommodation with air conditioning or window and door screens, or sleep under a mosquito bed net.

Diseases spread by mosquitoes

The risk of disease is much more serious than the irritation of a mosquito bite. According to the American Mosquito Control Association, over 1 million people worldwide die annually from mosquito-borne illness.

A mosquito feeding and full of blood.
Mosquitoes can transmit many diseases, including Zika virus, malaria and dengue fever.

Several of the harmful infections carried and transmitted by mosquitoes include:

  • West Nile virus: Most people infected show no symptoms, although 20 percent will develop a fever or other flu-like symptoms. Less than 1 percent develop a more serious illness that affects the nervous system.
  • Zika virus: A generally mild condition characterized by fever, joint pain, and rash. While the symptoms of Zika usually pass after 1 week, it has been confirmed that Zika can lead to serious birth defects.
  • Malaria: This life-threatening disease is caused by parasites which infect and destroy red blood cells. Early diagnosis is important to control and treat malaria.
  • Yellow fever: A virus that causes inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms include fever and sore throat.
  • Dengue fever: Symptoms range from mild to severe and include high fever, rash, muscle soreness, and joint pain. The most extreme cases cause severe bleeding, shock, and death. Dengue fever mostly occurs in tropical and sub-tropical areas.
  • Chikungunya: Characterized by joint pain, headache, rash, and fever, those who catch chikungunya require bed rest and fluids for recovery.

Treatments and remedies for mosquito bites

Although mosquito bites heal with time, putting up with the itching and swelling can be difficult. There are a number of steps people can take to make these symptoms more bearable:

  • Resisting the urge to scratch, which can lead to infection
  • Gently washing blisters with soap and water, being careful not to burst them
  • Using an ice pack to reduce swelling and pain, or taking a cool bath without soap
  • Applying an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion for swelling and itchiness
  • Applying a paste of baking soda and water for a natural treatment option
  • Using oral antihistamines if itching doesn’t go away

When to see a doctor

People should contact a doctor if they are experiencing symptoms such as:

  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Aches and pains
  • Rashes

In cases of anaphylactic shock following a mosquito bite, they should seek emergency medical assistance.