Useful tips for recognising insect bites and stings

Some bites and stings, such as those released by wasps and bumblebees, are very painful and may require sudden medical intervention, especially if the subject shows a hypersensitivity to the sting (linked to an immune reaction to the substances carried by the sting).

It should not be forgotten, moreover, that the stings can transmit pathogens into the body and therefore be the potential cause of infections or pathologies due to parasites, bacteria or viruses.

Mosquitoes, I.V. phlebotomes, fleas and ticks are known to be vectors responsible for the transmission of parasitic, bacterial and viral diseases in humans and domestic animals also in Italy.

Learning to recognize the immediate bites and stings of insects and arthropods, although not always very simple, will be very important to understand whether to resort to Disinfestation treatment, seek immediate medical attention or treat the lesion quietly at home with specific products.

Mosquito bite

A mosquito bite presents itself as a more or less reddened subcutaneous bubble, which can cause a lot of itching and discomfort to the skin. Mosquitoes generally sting at the limbs, especially in the parts of the body that generally remain uncovered during spring/summer periods (arms and legs).

Some mosquitoes have nocturnal habits, others twilight and diurnal (tiger mosquito), so bites are always possible.

Mosquito bites can transmit dangerous diseases (Malaria, Yellow Fever, West-Nile Fever, Dengue, etc…) especially if you are travelling in endemic areas. However, it is important to recognize the symptoms, which often occur from one week after the bite.

Flu-like symptoms such as headaches and muscle pain, fever and swollen glands should not be underestimated, especially after travel to areas where these diseases are reported. In such cases, it is advisable to seek medical advice in good time.

Environmental treatment and the use of skin repellents are also recommended.

Phlebotomi or Pappataci bite

They are bites caused by small diptera, often confused with mosquitoes, which usually cause very itchy bites and often larger than those of mosquitoes.

The parrots are silent insects and do not produce the buzzing typical of mosquitoes, which is why they are very difficult to detect. The stings are located in the lower parts of the body (ankles and legs) because the phlebotomes have a reduced flying range in height compared to mosquitoes. They have crepuscular and nocturnal habits.

They are responsible for canine leishmaniasis, a disease potentially transmissible to humans through the same insect. Environmental treatment is also recommended.

Bedbug Bite

The stings of these insects are not painful, but can cause an immediate (and in several cases) allergic reaction to the saliva of the insect, which leads to discomfort, itching and skin irritation.

Our bodies can therefore react differently to these stings and this makes them particularly difficult to recognise. They are often confused with the stings of other insects.

Bedbugs are active at night and the affected person notices the stings when they wake up. It is often possible to notice traces of blood on the sheets.

The most affected areas of the body are the limbs, neck and back. Usually the stings are concentrated in certain areas of the body, especially those most uncovered during the night and can be quite aligned with each other because the bedbug, if disturbed, causes more stings by moving on the body of its host.

This insect does not transmit infectious diseases and most bites can be easily treated. In case of small bites no treatment is necessary. In the case of stings that cause itching or turn into a more serious rash, you should consult your doctor instead.

Bugs and their stings can be a source of emotional stress and phobias that should also be dealt with with medical advice.

Mite stings

Actually, mites are not insects as many believe, but they belong to the arachnid family. We can distinguish between plant mites, wood mites, animal mites and dust mites. Mites are very small and cannot be seen with the naked eye.

Usually the mite bites of plants in outdoor environment are related to outdoor activities (gardening, agricultural work, recreational activities) and localized on trunk and limbs. These mites can be introduced into the house through wood or infested plants.

In internal areas the most frequent stings are due to the Pyemotes mite, which is a woodworm parasite. This mite stings the man accidentally infesting the shelves, chairs and sofas of houses where it is present or there has been an infestation by woodworm.

The stings of Pyemotes cause a delayed skin reaction compared to the sting and can assume the so-called “comet” shape that makes them unmistakable. Environmental treatment is always recommended. In case it will also be necessary to evaluate a treatment aimed at eliminating woodworm.

As far as dust mites are concerned, however, it is necessary to know that they do not sting, as many people believe, but contact with their waste products, such as feces, present in carpets, sofa fabrics and beds, can cause allergic reactions with the onset of skin rash characterized by reddened skin and rashes and blisters that can be mistaken for stings.

In addition to skin rashes, asthma, redness of the eyes, wheezing and other allergic symptoms may occur. Dust mites are responsible for 25% of the world’s allergies.

Aculean Hymenoptera Bites (Hornets, Wasps, Bees)

They are painful stings caused by bumblebees, bees and wasps, so that the subject generally notices immediately the presence of the insect.

All three are equipped with a sting at the end of the body that can be several millimeters long. The sting is connected to a cavity inside the body containing a poison that is injected with the sting. The poison is very toxic but the amounts injected are fortunately small and pose no danger per se.

To take a serious risk a normal person should be stung more than a hundred times.

The stings of these hymenoptera often cause redness, swelling or edema (usually a white part appears in the middle of the redness), acute pain and then itching.

The bee sting is serrated and after the sting remains embedded in the skin. The bee sting should be extracted within 20 seconds of the sting to prevent the poison from entering the bloodstream. The bee sting appears as a black dot in the middle of a reddened patch of skin with a small whitish bag containing the poison attached. To extract it, use tweezers or nails, remembering not to squeeze the skin around it.

The sting of wasps and hornets instead, unlike that of bees, is smooth and retractable and does not come off after the sting. This is why wasps and hornets are able to inflict multiple stings.

In case of a single sting that does not show any particular skin reactions, a home treatment will be sufficient. Cortisone creams can be applied to reduce swelling and redness.

In case of local reactions that exceed 24 hours or allergic reactions (anaphylactic shock) with the appearance of symptoms such as difficulty in speaking, persistent coughing, difficulty in breathing, nausea, vomiting and lowering of the pressure, it will be necessary to contact the emergency room immediately.

Multiple punctures and swarm attacks can also be fatal if you do not take prompt action.

Aculeate Hymenoptera Stings (Scleroderma)

A particular type of hymenoptera is the Scleroderma domesticum, a small woodworm parasitoid that can accidentally sting humans inside woodworm infested houses.

Although visible to the naked eye, similar to a very small ant the size of a pinhead, the Scleroderma often goes unnoticed while its stings on the parts of the body that may come into contact with infested furnishings are highlighted.

The stings occur mainly in the spring-summer period, more often at night. The stings are painful because of the injected poison and cause the appearance of reddened hard papules with yellowish centre, which cause itching and can persist for more than a week.

The stings are always multiple and scattered in random order on the skin. Usually the stings are on the abdomen and buttocks. In the case of subjects with skin particularly sensitive to arthropods, dermatitis (papular urticaria) can occur, accompanied by the presence of blisters and symptoms such as fever, malaise and nausea. In any case it is always preferable to consult your dermatologist.

In the case of Scleroderma a Disinfestation is certainly recommended to prevent other stings and should be specifically targeted to the elimination of woodworm.

Spider bites

Most spider bites are not dangerous and unless there are individual allergic reactions, they regress without special treatment.

In Italy only the Black Widow is able to cause poisonous bites dangerous for man (especially in children and the elderly) that can cause a sense of oppression of the respiratory tract, swelling of the face and difficulty in swallowing.

In Italy we also find Il Ragno Violino (Loxosceles rufescens), responsible for a very painful bite that can also cause serious problems in sensitive subjects. This spider is also frequent near and inside houses, it prefers dark and sheltered environments such as attics, basements, cellars, in furniture and in all those small cavities that can give it shelter.

The bites to man are accidental and occur when the spider finds itself in close contact with the skin. At night between the sheets, wearing clothes in which the spider has taken refuge or accidentally stepped on it barefoot. It is important to specify is that the bite of the spider may not even be felt at the moment.

The pain, which varies from mild to severe, starts after 2-8 hours. The injected venom can cause severe ulcerations and necrosis of the affected parts that take a long time to heal. They can be accompanied by fever and a rash on the body that causes itching.

There may also be more rarely systemic involvement such as weakness, joint and muscle pain, insomnia, restlessness, pharyngitis and skin rash. Symptoms usually start 2-6 hours after biting.

A recommendation for non necrotic forms is to rest, apply cold compresses, compress and keep the affected part (in case of limbs) elevated. If the wound continues to deteriorate after 24 hours, it is a good idea to consult your dermatologist.

Tick bites

Some of them can be dangerous as carriers of several diseases, such as Lyme disease. It comes with the appearance of concentric skin rashes and other symptoms that appear long afterwards: muscle aches, headaches, and high fever.

The ticks remain attached to the host for as long as it takes to feed without being noticed. So it is important to inspect the body parts after long walks in the countryside and woods and always use high boots in risky situations.

Tick extraction should preferably be carried out by a doctor or veterinarian, as incorrect manoeuvres can cause the tick rostrum to break, which, if left in the skin, increases the chance of secondary infection.

Flea bites

Symptoms begin within hours of biting, causing point rash and swelling around the lesion. If the rash is pressed, it turns white and swells. Usually in humans, the rash is initially located on the limbs and lower abdomen.

The fleas, although small, are visible to the naked eye as tiny, laterally crushed insects of a bright brown/black colour. On flea infested animals there are visible signs of alteration of the fur and small reddish-brown debris corresponding to the flea faeces.

The sanitary treatment of the animals and the treatment of the environment is essential.

Lice bites

They appear as small red spots and cause high itching. Call your doctor immediately so that the infection does not spread to other areas of the body. It is generally not necessary to resort to environmental treatments as lice are generally unable to survive for a long time away from their host.

Ant bites

some ants have strong jaws capable of inflicting very painful bites that cause inflammation and burning. The inflammation manifests itself with a white rash.

Scorpion bites

Scorpions present in Italy do not normally represent a real danger as they have a poison that is not very active towards humans and their stings are comparable to those of wasps.

The majority of scorpions in our country belong to the Euscorpius genus, animals that are not very aggressive and prefer escape to attack. The claws are their main weapon and use the sting only when they feel threatened by large predators.

In case of a sting, it is important not to panic. Do not apply laces that tighten the affected area or try to suck the poison out with your mouth.

What you can do is:

  • immobilize the affected area;
  • squeeze the skin to get the poison out;
  • apply ice to ease the pain.

If in doubt, call the nearest poison control centre and identify the scorpion if possible.

If you have more serious reactions but are limited to the puncture site (very severe pain, swelling) it may be helpful to take pain-relieving and anti-edematous drugs. If, on the other hand, the reactions affect the body at a systemic level, potentially life-threatening, hospitalization is necessary.

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