Insect & Spider Bites

What are common pest bites, when should I be concerned?

Pest Bite Appearance Treatment
  • Small, raised welt on skin surface, red
  • Symptoms are stinging when bitten, itching
  • Recent concerns with the Zika virus, transmitted via mosquito bites, and pregnancy have raised awareness
  • Bite will resolve independently
  • Can apply ice, anti-itch creams
  • Remove standing water around the property, wear long sleeves and insect repellant
  • Flies are in most cases a harmless, annoying pest. However, some types (there are over 100,000 types) such as deer flies and sand flies, can bite and carry disease.
  • Bites can be painful and lead to red bumps
  • If welts, ulcers, or fever develop, seek care
  • Seek medical care if symptoms don’t resolve. Also, if traveling to another country, research the flies and take precautions.
  • Prevent fly propagation by keeping grass trimmed, cleaning up after pets, and closing lids tightly on trash
  • Fleas are tiny, crawling pests that can bite, most often on the ankles, legs, or trunk
  • Small, itchy, red bumps appear, usually in clusters or lines, often with a “halo” around bite center
  • Flea bites go away on their own, but anti-itch creams and antihistamines can be considered
  • Excessive scratching can lead to an infection which requires medical attention
  • Make sure pets are treated
  • Home may require exterminator to get rid of fleas
  • Tiny chigger larvae can hop onto the skin from tall grass/plants during warm seasons and feed off your skin for several days, leaving groups of red bumps that can turn into extremely itchy welts, blisters, pimples, or hives
  • Commonly found on ankles, waist, armpits, crotch, and behind knees
  • Can apply ice or anti-itch creams
  • Bites will heal independently
  • Danger for infection if excessive scratching
  • Most spiders can’t get through our skin surface to hurt us, but some can including the wolf, brown recluse, and black widow spiders
  • If you notice a bite that won’t heal, skin tissue that’s damaged, or other symptoms such as fever, muscle/body aches or pains, headaches, etc get medical treatment right away
  • Identification of the spider, if you see it, is helpful
  • Keep the bite clean and dry, monitor for other symptoms such as tissue damage, wound that won’t heal, or systemic involvement (fever, headache, stomach ache/pain, muscle rigidity, sweating, weakness) and seek medical attention if present.
  • Ticks range in size from as tiny as a pin head to pencil eraser
  • They are picked up when walking through grass or shrubs, and seek out areas such as your armpit, groin, or hair
  • They attach and suck blood, enlarging their abdomen as they suck
  • Most ticks are harmless and can be removed with tweezers, being sure to remove the entire tick body by pulling from the skin surface, then rubbing the site with alcohol
  • There are several tick related illnesses including Lyme disease
  • If after a tick bite one notices redness/ring/rash near bite spot, fever, nausea, headache, muscle or joint aches, neck stiffness, or swollen lymph nodes, medical attention should be sought
Fire ant
  • Fire ants can be red, brown, or black, and live in colonies of 200,000 or more
  • Their nests can be up to 1 foot tall, and when disturbed they can swarm and bite
  • Bites look like multiple red blistery bumps that are painful and itchy
  • Treatment includes washing and wrapping bites
  • Ice can help with pain, and topical steroid creams can help
  • Bites usually heal within a week
  • There is a danger of an allergic reaction, especially with multiple episodes, so if one develops difficulty breathing, swallowing, fever, or nausea, medical attention should be sought
  • Also known as the “seven year itch”, scabies is caused by mites that burrow under the upper layer of skin, feeding on blood and laying eggs in a 4 day life cycle
  • Bites look like raised, pink, fluid filled bumps, sometimes occurring in lines
  • Often, the hands and feet are most affected
  • Scabies earned its nick name because of the difficulty in successful treatment
  • Treatment includes topical medication and a strict protocol under medical supervision
  • Vigilance after initial treatment and further treatment for new bites is crucial
Bed bugs
  • Bed bugs are small, flat, oval, brownish red insects that have been encountered more frequently in the last several years in areas of high occupancy (hotels, dorms, shelters, etc.), but can survive anywhere
  • They like to be active at night, and victims can wake up with red, itchy, swollen areas, often in lines, on exposed areas of skin
  • Bed bug bites do not carry disease, but the itching and scratching can lead to an infection
  • Treatment includes anti-itch creams, antihistamines, and ice packs
  • Symptoms usually resolve in 1-2 weeks
  • Types of lice include head lice, pubic lice (aka crabs), and body lice
  • The first two listed prefer areas with hair, where they can bite the skin and lay eggs (nits) on hair follicles
  • Symptoms include itching and possible scabs when scratched excessively
  • Lice can be transmitted from person to person with shared hats, clothing, or close living quarters
  • Treatments can be medicinal or natural to get rid of the lice and nits
  • It’s important, as well, to treat all clothing, bedding, furniture, etc. that one comes in contact with to prevent re-infection
  • Body lice, associated with unsanitary living conditions, can carry disease and medical treatment should be sought. Improved hygiene can reduce symptoms.
  • Bee stings in most cases lead to a mild reaction of pain, and a small red bump with white center where the stinger went, and resolve in a few hours
  • Occasionally, one will have a moderate reaction of redness and swelling that increase over the first few days, and resolve in about 10 days
  • There are cases of an allergic reaction to bee stings characterized by difficulty breathing or swallowing, nausea, weakness, fainting, or hives. Immediate medical attention is crucial
  • Clean the site of the sting and remove stinger if necessary
  • Ice can sooth symptoms as well as creams such as hydrocortisone or calmoseptine
  • If painful, ibuprofen or Tylenol, plus an antihistamine should be considered
  • If systemic symptoms are present such as nausea, diarrhea, difficulty breathing or swallowing, dizziness, loss of consciousness, etc., immediate medical attention is crucial

Healthline Bug Bites and Stings

Mayo Clinic Insect bites and stings: First aid