Easy tips you can use to avoid insect bites and stings

For infections spread by insect bites and stings, avoiding exposure is the best way to prevent disease.

We have an influenza vaccine and scientists are hard at work developing one for coronavirus. For infections spread by insect bites and stings, avoiding exposure is the best way to prevent disease.



Insect bites and stings cause 3 types of problems-

local skin reaction

A local reaction at the site of the bite. This can range from mild redness, swelling and itching to a deep wound that may get infected.

The young girl depicted here, sustained a number of insect bites about her upper back. Note how these vesicular lesions resembled what was initially thought to be a case of chickenpox, caused by the varicella zoster virus (VZV). credit CDC/ K.L. Herrmann,public domain

systemic reaction

A systemic reaction means symptoms in multiple organs of the body. This could include nausea, vomiting, trouble breathing, dizziness, muscle aches , headache and anaphylaxis (life-threatening  allergic reaction). Bee and wasp stings can cause both local and systemic reactions.

An insect transmitted infection

We worry most about this one  (other than an anaphylaxis.) World wide, this is the most serious result of insect bites, leading to millions of illnesses and deaths. Malaria alone infects 200 million people, causing almost 500,000 deaths yearly.

Mosquitoes– bites can transmit malaria; Zika , chikungunya, dengue, West Nile,and yellow fever viruses

Ticks-bites transmit Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, ehrlichiosis, and tularemia.


This photograph depicted two, Haemaphysalis longicornis  ticks, commonly known as the longhorned tick. The smaller of the two ticks on the left, was a nymph. The larger tick was an adult female. Males are rare. This tick can reproduce asexually. Note that the ticks had been placed atop a United States dime, in order to provide you with some sense of scale, as to the size of these small creatures. credit James Gathany/CDC
This image is in the public domain and thus free of any copyright restrictions


Preventing insect bites

  • wear long sleeve shirts and jackets
  • sleep under nets
  • be cautious when eating out of doors
  • remove sources of standing water
  • keep doors and windows closed, or install screens
  • apply insect repellents to skin or clothing




Insect repellents shown effective in  scientific studies.

(This section contains several affiliate links. They are here for your convenience and to support this blog. However, they do not indicate endorsement or advice to use.)

DEET- N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide

  • best documented effectiveness against mosquitoes and also repels ticks, chiggers, fleas, gnats ,and flies.
  • Safe for children over 2 months old
  • Considered safe in pregnancy
  • Apply sunscreen first, then apply DEET

Ultrathon Insect Repellent 2 oz (Pack of 2)


  • Protects against mosquitoes, ticks, flies, fleas, and chiggers
  • Safe for children
  • Safe in pregnancy
  • Better tolerated than DEET

Avon SSS Bug Guard Plus Picaridin Aerosol Spray 4 Oz.


  • Works against mosquitoes, deer ticks, flies
  • Safe in pregnancy

Avon SKIN-SO-SOFT Bug Guard PLUS IR3535® Insect Repellent Moisturizing Lotion – SPF 30 Gentle Breeze, 4 oz


 Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus – p-menthane-3,8-diol (PMD)

  • Repels mosquitoes, flies, gnats
  • Less effective than DEET for ticks
  • Not for children less than 3 years old
  • Safe in pregnancy

Coleman Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus, Deet Free Insect Repellent Spray Pump, 4 fl oz


  • Repels and kills mosquitoes and ticks
  • Is applied to clothing, nets, tents and sleeping bags
  • No evidence of harm to children or in pregnancy

Coleman Gear and Clothing Permethrin Insect Repellent Aerosol, 6 Ounce


  • Only effective against mosquitoes, not against ticks
  • Less effective than DEET



Essential oils

  • Obtained from clove, geraniol, patchouli
  • Limited and variable protection against mosquitoes



How we’re fighting malaria around the world

You can help the victims of malaria by donating to the Malaria Medicine Fund. Blessings International gives malaria medicine to medical teams free of charge to use while treating malaria patients all over the world. 100% of donations go to this cause.

Read more and donate at this link

Blessings is working to fight malaria, and you can help!

(Watercress Words endorses Blessings International but has no direct financial interest or connection. This is not a sponsored or affiliate link.)


Listen to an Apple Podcast where 2 Docs Talk about

Emerging Vector Borne Disease

A vector is an organism that carries and transmits disease. The term usually refers to insects, but humans and other animals can also be vectors.

exploring the HEART of disease prevention

I appreciate all of you who are following Watercress Words, and if you aren’t I invite you to join the wonderful people who are. You can meet some of them in the sidebar, where you can click on their image and visit their blogs. Use the form to get an email notification of new posts. Don’t worry, you won’t get anything else from me.

"faith, hope, love" each word written on a card, strung on a line with clothes pins
Lightstock.com graphic; find it at this link

Megan Briggs from Blessings International shares

Vaccination prevents disease- part 2

In part 1  I discussed the vaccine preventable bacterial diseases . Here we’ll look at viral infections.

Virus vs Bacteria

One major difference between bacterial and viral infections is the treatment. We have many more effective antibiotics (drugs which fight bacteria) than we do antiviral drugs.

And antibiotics do not affect viruses. Despite that fact, patients often expect and even demand their physicians prescribe antibiotics for viral infections such as influenza, colds and bronchitis- and unfortunately too often we physicians do it anyway.

6 smart facts about antibiotic use

Influenza- the vaccine is given annually and targeted to the strains of virus predicted to be active in any given year.

symptoms of influenza
The nasal flu vaccine is not preferred as it is less effective than a shot. 


Measles (rubeola), Mumps, Rubella (German measles) -I am grouping these together since their vaccines are usually given together as the MMR. Recent outbreaks of measles have been attributed to the decline in vaccination rates. 

Polio, a disease parents feared when I was a child, due to to risk of permanent paralysis, now essentially eradicated in the United States

Rotavirus,  in infants and small children, a common cause of gastroenteritis- vomiting and diarrhea, with or without fever and abdominal pain

HPV, the human papilloma virus, causes warts of all kinds, but the vaccine is targeted to the strains that cause genital warts and can lead to cervical cancer

The cousin viruses, Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B.

Hepatitis is an infection  of the liver, which can range from a mild disease to life threatening. Hepatitis A is spread through contaminated food or water. Hepatitis B is spread through contact with infected blood or other body fluids.

Another set of cousins, Varicella Zoster (VZ) virus causes two different infections and thus has two vaccines. The original infection is  varicella or chickenpox, formerly a common childhood illness but not seen often now due to the vaccine. When it reactivates, usually years later in adulthood, it is known as  zoster or shingles.

There are also several vaccines usually reserved for travel to specific areas of the world, occupational exposure, military service or other special circumstances. These include vaccines for anthrax, typhoid, cholera, (bacteria) and yellow fever, smallpox,and rabies (viruses). 

Diseases for which there is no vaccine

One of the most serious is malaria, caused by a parasite transmitted by infected mosquitos. Malaria is rarely a risk in northern or extreme southern areas of the world, but for the tropics, especially sub-Saharan Africa it is a major health problem.

Otherwise we all are at risk of other serious infections that we cannot yet prevent with immunization. These include

HIV-human immunodeficiency virus ,and most other sexually transmitted diseases including HSV- herpes simplex virus, gonorrhea, syphilis, and chlamydia.

HCV- Hepatitis C

Most respiratory viruses, including rhinovirus, cause of the common cold; RSV-respiratory syncytial virus and infectious mononucleosis

The Ebola virus

Borrelia, not really a bacteria, it’s a spirochete, which causes Lyme (not lime) disease

And the bacteria Staphylococcus, which causes “staph” (not staff) infections of the skin and Streptococcus, which causes “strep throat”.

And as of September 26, 2020 there is not yet a vaccine for SARS-CoV2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Several are in trials and may be available by 2021.

If you have any questions or concerns about which vaccines you might need to protect yourself against infections, please consult your own personal physician.

Detailed information about vaccines and infectious disease  is available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 

person getting vaccinated

Vital questions you should ask about immunization

This coronavirus pandemic is serious. We don’t yet have a vaccine or effective treatments. To protect ourselves, our familes, and our entire communities we should all be practicing social distancing and other hygiene measures as we wait for a safe, effective vaccine and treatments.

exploring the HEART of infection prevention

I appreciate all of you who are following Watercress Words, and if you aren’t I invite you to join the wonderful people who are. You can meet some of them in the sidebar, where you can click on their image and visit their blogs. Use the form to get an email notification of new posts. Don’t worry, you won’t get anything else from me.

Dr Aletha

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