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What Bit Me? Identifying Bug Bites

Published on Apr 14, 2016
Authored by Pfizer Medical Team

Ever wonder what bit you? There are a slew of critters, like bees, mosquitos and ticks that are known to bite or sting and cause uncomfortable symptoms. Though bug bites are often harmless, it’s still wise to learn how to identify each bug’s distinctive bite. Knowing which kind of bug bit you can help you and your healthcare provider know what to do in case of a bite.

Mosquito Bites

Mosquito Bites

A mosquito bite is an itchy bump that can swell up, appear red, and in some cases cause soreness. The bite usually goes away on its own after a few days. Some adults and children may experience more severe reactions, such as swelling and redness, low-grade fever, hives, or swollen lymph nodes. If these symptoms occur, a doctor should be consulted right away. Washing the area with soap and water or using a topical agent such as calamine lotion can help reduce itching and swelling.

While most mosquito bites are harmless, mosquitoes can transmit serious diseases and viruses, such as viral encephalitis, West Nile virus, Zika virus, Chikungunya virus, dengue fever, yellow fever, and malaria. If you experience fever, headache, body aches or signs of infection, contact a doctor right away.

Protecting against mosquito bites
It’s important to protect against mosquito bites. Here are some things you can do to help:

  • Wear protective clothing (e.g., long-sleeves, long pants, socks).
  • Remove standing water around the home (e.g., birdbaths, rain gutters, empty flower pots).
  • Repair holes in window or door screens.
  • Apply mosquito repellant.
  • Avoid outdoor activities when mosquitoes are most active, especially dusk and dawn. Keep in mind that mosquitoes bite night and day!

When traveling outside of the US, be sure to see your doctor about getting vaccinated (as there are vaccines for certain mosquito-borne illnesses); also check for travel health notices which are published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Some diseases, such as Zika, Chikungunya, malaria and yellow fever are more common in certain countries.

Bee or Wasp Stings

Bee or Wasp Stings

Bee and wasp stings can cause pain, redness, and swelling, which may last for a few hours. Some people experience more severe symptoms, such as redness and swelling that resolve over 5-10 days. Signs and symptoms of a severe and potentially life-threatening reaction (called anaphylaxis) include: difficulty breathing, swelling of the throat and tongue, fainting and hives. In the case of anaphylaxis, immediate medical attention is needed.

Most bee and wasp stings can be treated at home with over the counter remedies. If possible, remove the bee or wasp stinger from your skin as soon as you can (the venom sac is attached at the end of the stinger) with a flat object such as with a credit card. Applying ice or a cool compress, hydrocortisone cream, or calamine lotion can ease symptoms. Taking an oral antihistamine can also help.

If you are severely allergic to bee or wasp stings, ask your healthcare provider if a self-administered emergency treatment option may be right for you.

Spider Bites

Spider Bites

Afraid of spiders? Many people are, but spiders very rarely bite humans. However, when they do, most spider bites are usually harmless. Spider bites can cause redness and swelling. Apply ice or a cool compress, or take an over-the-counter antihistamine to help relieve symptoms.

There are two types of spiders to watch out for that can be very dangerous—the black widow spider (more common in southern states of the U.S.) and the brown recluse spider (more common in central and southern U.S. states). These two spiders have venomous bites that can be life threatening if not treated quickly or properly. If you experience intense pain or cramping, fever, chills, headaches; a red ring around the bite (brown recluse), seek immediate medical attention.



Ticks are part of the same family as spiders, but unlike spiders, they are tiny blood-sucking bugs that attach onto the skin of people and animals. They prefer warm and moist areas of the body, such as your underarms, groin, and hair, and can remain attached to the skin for several days. In most cases, tick bites are often harmless and do not cause noticeable symptoms. People who are allergic to tick bites may experience a rash, burning sensation, blisters, or difficulty breathing.

Ticks can also carry serious diseases, such as Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis and tularemia. So it’s important to protect yourself: wear long sleeves and pants, tuck pant legs into socks and use tick repellant. After outdoor activities (e.g., playing outside, trail walks, hikes), check your skin for ticks—do this for your family and pets as well. Also if possible, avoid areas where ticks are often found, such as in tall grasses, shrubs and brushes.

If you find a tick, try to remove the entire tick with a set of tweezers. If you are unable to remove the entire tick from the skin, apply rubbing alcohol or clean the site with soap and water. Be sure to watch out for unusual symptoms, such as redness or rash, stiff neck, headache, nausea, fever, chills and weakness—talk to your doctor if you experience these symptoms.


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