By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
Insect bites can be prevented mainly by avoidance. There are numerous precautions that may be taken to avoid getting bitten or stung by insects. Since insect bites may sometimes bear infectious diseases these precautions may be important.
In addition those who have had an allergic reaction to an insect bite are likely to get a severe allergic reaction again and need to avoid such bites and stings. 1-5
Outline of prevention of insect bites and stings includes moving away from certain areas, minimal skin exposure, insect screens and so forth.
Moving away from areas with insects
Moving away from areas with the stinging insects like bees, wasps or hornets. This needs to be done slowly and without panicking. When attacked the person is advised to back away slowly and calmly and not flap or swat at the insect.
Minimising skin exposure
There should be minimum exposed skin in areas with high insect populations or at times when the insects are particularly active, such as sunrise or sunset.
Long sleeves and trousers usually help prevent bites and stings to a great extent.
Ticks can be avoided by wearing trousers tucked into the socks or boots. Light colored fabrics usually help avoid insects and make them easier to spot. Shoes should always be worn outside
Persons are advised to stay indoors at dusk or sunset when the insects are more active.
Insect screens should be used on windows and doors to prevent their entry into the home. Car doors and tent flaps should be kept closed to avoid insect entry. Insect repellent nets or mosquito nets should be used to sleep in to avoid being bitten during sleep.
An insect repellent may be applied on the skin particularly in summer or early autumn. This includes all exposed areas. Repellents that contain diethyltoluamide (DEET) are considered most effective.
Insect repellents for children
For children, repellents with DEET may be used. Repellent used on clothing use an ingredient called permethrin to repel insects. DEET repels mosquitos, ticks and other bugs.
For children and teenagers 30% DEET should be used. 30% DEET protects for 6 hours. For smaller babies 10% DEET preparations may be used. 10% DEET is only effective for 2 hours.
DEET should not be used in babies below 2 months. Breast-feeding women may use DEET.
DEET should not be put into eyes or mouth. If the child sucks his or her fingers or thumb the cream must be removed.
DEET should be avoided over rashes, sunburns or open sores. Once the child is indoors DEET should be washed off with soap and water.
Other insect repellents include Picaridin and Oil of lemon eucalyptus. The latter may be used for children over 3 years. Insect repellent for clothing is Permethrin. These repel mosquitoes and ticks. These have advantage of not being directly applied over the skin. When put on skin Permethrin loses its effectiveness.
Avoidance of highly perfumed products
Products with perfumes like deodorants, soaps, hairsprays and creams and brightly colored clothes may attract insects and should be avoided.
In addition flowering plants, food left overs, rubbish and compost areas also attract insects due to their smell and should be avoided.
Fallen fruits, uncovered dustbins etc. should be avoided. Rotting fruits should be removed from the garden regularly and all dustbins should be covered.
While eating outdoors, food and drinks should be kept covered as wasps and bees are attracted to sweet drinks and food.
Other preventative measures
All pets should have treatment for fleas, mites and ticks regularly.
Insect nests should never be disturbed. If there is one near the home, it should be removed by professionals.
Camping should be avoided near water, such as ponds and swamps since there host mosquitoes and horseflies. If camping adequate insect repellents should be used to avoid bites.
Regular inspection of the skin for ticks including head, neck and skin folds like armpits and groin is important for detection especially after visits to areas with ticks. Children, pets and clothes should be examined as well.
Bed bugs bites can be prevented by spraying the bed and baseboards with 1% malathion but care must be taken not to expose young children to the chemical as it can be poisonous.
While travelling abroad awareness, medication and vaccination against insect borne disease is important.
Reviewed by April Cashin-Garbutt, BA Hons (Cantab)