Bug Bites and Infection: When to Seek Treatment

It’s summertime and the living may be easy, but it can also be buggy, bite-y, sting-y and downright uncomfortable. Even if you do your best to avoid and repel insects, you’re more than likely going to end up with a few bites before the season is out.

While most bites or stings will only be annoyingly itchy for a few days, they can sometimes require medical attention – know the signs and symptoms to recognize when you might need to see a doctor.

Assess the area of the bite or sting

Everyone reacts differently to bug bites and stings – some people will barely notice a mosquito bite, while others will swell and itch uncontrollably until it heals. Your body’s reaction is basically an allergic response to the components in the insect’s saliva or the venom from its sting, so your own chemical makeup will determine the extent of your reaction.

Early signs that you’ve been bitten might include redness and swelling around the bite area. Watch for development of a spreading rash, which could indicate the presence of a more serious and long-lasting issue like tick-borne Lyme disease. Any sign of rash should be seen by a medical professional as soon as possible.

In the case of a tick bite, you might still find the tick attached to your skin, in which case Dr. Malak Isaac, Capital Division Medical Director at BetterMed, advises that  “you should carefully remove it and try to keep it intact during the process; alternatively, seek medical attention for tick removal.” He adds that “the longer the tick stays attached to your skin, and also the bigger the tick, the more likely it will give you Lyme disease.”

In addition to any sign of rash, if the bite mark changes visibly or starts to extend beyond the initial site, you should see a doctor. Darker red lines extending from the site, unusual growths on the bite, or crusting around the original mark can indicate other skin conditions such as impetigo or cellulitis.

Creating infection

If you were ever scolded as a child for scratching bug bites, it turns out that your mom was right! Scratching bites and stings can lead to infection, turning what might have been a fairly harmless (if uncomfortable) bug bite into a problematic infection.

If you’ve gotten a bite or sting then your skin has been broken, even though the resulting open wound is generally no larger than the head of a pin. Scratching the bite with your fingernails opens that tiny wound to a much larger one, ready to become infected with germs from your hands or any bacteria that you encounter.

You’ll know you’ve moved into infection territory if you see increased redness around the bite or if it starts producing pus. Try to avoid scratching the area any more, and consider applying an antibacterial ointment and covering it with a bandage. Seek medical attention if the infection continues to worsen.

Whole-body symptoms

If left untreated, an infection can go systemic – that is, spreading out from the initial site to affect your entire body. Symptoms like fever, chills, body aches, and swollen lymph nodes are very serious and indicate that you should immediately seek medical treatment at an urgent care center such as BetterMed.

A doctor will treat these serious symptoms with medications like ibuprofen and antihistamines, but will also likely fight the infection itself with antibiotics. Your doctor may also perform blood tests to determine if you’ve contracted an insect-borne disease like Lyme or West Nile disease.

No need to hide inside all summer just to avoid potential insect issues – a bit of common sense (and insect repellant) can be a strong defense against bites and stings. See this CDC list for tips to help you avoid insects, and go out and make this a bite-free summer!