Tips to prevent and treat bug bites

Although most bug bites are harmless, some can spread dangerous diseases like Zika virus, dengue, Lyme disease, and malaria. Particularly if you’re visiting areas with known insect-borne diseases, it’s important to take steps to reduce your risk.

To help prevent bug bites, dermatologists recommend the following tips:

  1. Use insect repellent. To protect against mosquitoes, ticks and other bugs, use insect repellent that contains 20 to 30 percent DEET on exposed skin and clothing. Always follow the instructions on the repellent and reapply as directed. If you are also wearing sunscreen, apply your sunscreen first, let it dry, and then apply the insect repellent. Do not use sunscreen that contains insect repellent, as sunscreen must be applied liberally and often while insect repellant should be applied sparingly.

  2. Wear appropriate clothing. If you know you’re going to be out at night or hiking in a densely-wooded area, dress appropriately to prevent bug bites. Cover exposed skin as much as possible by wearing long-sleeved shirts, pants, socks and closed shoes instead of sandals. For additional protection, pull your socks up over your pants and tuck your shirt into your pants. You can also pre-treat outer layers of clothing with insect repellent containing the active ingredient Permethrin. Follow the directions carefully and allow the clothes to dry for at least two hours before wearing them.

  3. Use bed nets. If sleeping in the great outdoors, use bed nets to protect against mosquitoes. Look for one that has been pre-treated with pyrethroid insecticide. If it doesn’t reach the floor, tuck it under the mattress for maximum protection.

  4. Pay attention to outbreaks. Check the CDC Travel Health Notices website and heed travel warnings and recommendations.

Sometimes, despite one’s greatest efforts, bug bites still happen. Fortunately, most bug bites and stings can be safely treated at home.

To treat bug bites and stings at home, dermatologists recommend the following tips:

  1. For painful bites, such as a bee sting, take an over-the-counter painkiller, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Always follow the directions on the label and use the correct dose.

  2. For bites that itch, apply an ice pack or an over-the-counter anti-itch cream, such as hydrocortisone. Another option is to take an over-the-counter oral antihistamine.

  3. To reduce swelling, apply an ice pack to the bite.

If you experience any serious symptoms after a bug bite, such as a rash, fever, or body aches, see your doctor or a board-certified dermatologist immediately. Make sure you tell the doctor about your recent bite so that they can examine you for a transmitted disease.


Additional related resources