By Sean M. Fox, MD
Mosquitoes have been around since the time dinosaurs roamed the Earth, so they are fairly adept at doing their job: finding food (you), avoiding defenses, and biting you. There are a few steps, however, that you can take to help reduce your risk of being bitten.
- Avoid dusk to dawn – Mosquitoes are primarily active during these hours.
- Use insect repellent - DEET is the most consistent anti-mosquito substance available. It has been deemed safe and effective. There are other ingredients (picaridin, IR3535, and some oil of lemon, eucalyptus and para-menthane-diol) that are also effective.
- Wear light colored clothing – Mosquitoes are able to see contrasting colors best, so try to blend into the background.
- Wear long sleeves and pants – Prevent those flying hypodermic needles from gaining access to your sweet meat.
- Don’t smell too pretty – Perfumes, lotions, hairsprays, or anything that has a strong scent will attract the mosquitoes.
- Citronella candles – Ok, so these candles are not the most romantic, but smacking yourself repetitively is not going to make you more attractive to your date either.
- Get rid of any standing water – Mosquitoes need stagnant water to lay their eggs in, but they do not need a lot of it. The amount of water that has collected in the various kid’s plastic toys in the yard would be enough to become a mosquito nursery. Birdbaths, watering cans, dysfunctional rain gutters, old tires are all just the most commonly cited areas where water can collect, but a quick patrol of your yard will likely find others.
What to Do if Bitten
While you may take all of those measures, the likelihood is that, unless you confine yourself indoors throughout the summer months, you will be bitten. Once bitten, what can be done to help prevent the bite site from becoming infected? Simply put, keep it clean and don’t traumatize it (also known as scratching it).
Wash the bite area (or areas)
Simple soap and water will help reduce the available bacteria on the skin that can enter the bite wound.
Stop the itch
The mosquito’s bite will cause the body’s defense system to spring into action. This will lead to a myriad of factors, including histamine, being unleashed, which will lead to the itching. Unfortunately, the more you scratch it, the more irritation and inflammation will develop, complicating the process.
Anti-histamines applied topically are helpful. Ice packs (do not apply ice directly to the skin) can also help reduce the itch and inflammation. 1 percent hydrocortisone can be useful at reducing the inflammatory process. There are other “home remedies” that can be effective, like a paste of baking soda and water. Avoiding the repeated trauma of scratching will help reduce trauma to the area and decrease the chance that bacteria to enter the skin and cause problems.
Keep an eye on the area
The area immediately adjacent to the bite site will be red and will become slightly swollen. This is normal; however, if the redness begins to spread beyond the small area around the bite site or if the swelling increases markedly, these can be signs that the area may have become infect.
If your child (or yourself) seems to be prone to causing lots of additional trauma to the area from scratching, it can be helpful to add a topical antibiotic cream to your cleansing ritual for that area. If you are concerned that the area has become infected, then make an appointment with your physician.
Dr. Fox is an Associate Professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine and the Division of Pediatric Emergency Medicine at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte.