Diseases & Conditions
Insect Bites and stings
A ﬂy, tick, or mosquito bite may cause swelling and itching for several days and may lead to infection if a child scratches it open. Most of the time an insect bite or sting is not serious, and discomfort is limited to the sting or bite area.
However, some children may experience an extreme allergic reaction that requires immediate medical attention. The severity of the response can be caused by a child’s sensitivity to the particular toxin, such as bee venom. In addition, mosquito bites may rarely transmit disease, such as WEST NILE VIRUS or ENCEPHALITIS. Tick bites may transmit a variety of infectious diseases such as LYME DISEASE or ROCKY MOUNTAIN SPOTTED FEVER.
Children who are bitten or stung experience either a localized or a generalized reaction. A localized reaction is the typical swelling, itching, and redness that is normally limited to the bite site. A generalized (systemic) reaction is far more serious and can be life-threatening, including wheezing, tightness in the throat, shortness of breath, hives, swollen eyes, slurred speech, nausea and vomiting, mental confusion, and loss of consciousness. Emergency medical assistance is imperative in this case.
Consult a Doctor
A doctor should be consulted immediately if the child:
• is bitten by a scorpion, black widow spider, or brown recluse spider.
• has a rash with a distinct “bull’s-eye” appearance and ﬂu-like symptoms (signs of LYME DISEASE).
• has a localized reaction that does not improve within 72 hours.
• shows signs of infection after a localized reaction subsides (usually after 24 hours): fever, redness and swelling, and pus.
Because ﬂies, ticks, and mosquitoes can spread disease, the bite area should be washed with soap and water, followed by the application of an antiseptic. The stinger can be removed by gently scraping it out with a clean ﬁngernail or knife blade so no more venom is released. Cold compresses should be applied immediately following a bite or sting. Ticks should be carefully removed by grasping the body with tweezers and pulling.
To control itching, a nonprescription antihistamine, calamine lotion, ice packs, or oatmeal bath may help. Alternatively, itching may be controlled by applying a paste to the skin made up of any of the following:
• salt and water
• baking soda and water
• epsom salts (1 tbs. in 1 quart of water, chilled)
In the event of a generalized reaction, the child should rest immediately to slow the movement of venom through the body.
DEET (N1N-diethyl-m-toluamide) is the most effective of all bug repellants, and it may be used on children—but not on infants. DEET should be kept out of the eyes. New preparations combine sunscreen and a bug repellant in one cream. To avoid attracting insects or bugs, children should avoid wearing brightly colored clothes or applying a scented lotion to the skin.
Any child who has experienced generalized allergic reactions after a bee sting or insect bite should always carry a kit containing epinephrine, especially when outdoors. A child who has experienced generalized reactions to bites or stings should wear a medic alert bracelet or necklace.