Everybody suffers the occasional mosquito bite, and most of the time it’s not a cause for concern – particularly if it happens in the UK. However, if you’re in a country where certain tropical diseases are rife, a mosquito bite can pose a more serious threat to your health. It’s also possible to have a bad reaction to a mosquito bite, resulting in swelling and pain. Read on to find out how to avoid mosquito bites, and what to do if you do get bitten.
What are mosquitoes?
Mosquitoes are small flying insects that feed on human blood. They are found on almost every landmass, but prefer warm and moist climates, making them particularly prevalent in tropical countries.
Being bitten by a mosquito is completely painless and is not usually felt at the time. However, the resulting bite can be very itchy, and can sometimes become swollen and painful.
The main threat that mosquitoes pose is that they spread diseases. In certain countries, mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria are very common. Mosquitoes pass these diseases on by transferring infected blood from one person to another.
What are the symptoms of a mosquito bite?
The first sign of a mosquito bite is itching. You may notice that there is a small bump in the itchy area and that it becomes hard and red in colour, particularly if you scratch it.
Sometimes the body can “overreact” to a mosquito bite causing:
- Swelling and redness
- Hives (a raised skin rash)
- Swollen lymph nodes
Children and adults with weakened immune systems are more likely to react badly to mosquito bites.
How is a mosquito bite treated?
Mosquito bites don’t usually need treatment, however you can help to soothe the itch by doing the following:
- Apply a cold compress (e.g. a cold wet flannel) or an ice pack
- Apply over-the-counter treatments such as hydrocortisone or antihistamine cream
- Take antihistamine tablets
- Resist the urge to scratch
If you have had a bad reaction to the bite you might need to see a doctor. They may prescribe a stronger medicine such as steroid tablets or if they think it is infected antibiotics. If the redness is spreading or you develop fevers you should see a doctor for review.
Which diseases are spread by mosquitoes?
Mosquitoes are most commonly associated with the spread of malaria. This causes symptoms similar to the flu – fever, aches and pains, and vomiting – often in a recurring cycle. Without prompt medical treatment malaria can cause life-threatening complications. Mosquitoes also spread:
- Yellow fever
- West Nile virus
- Japanese encephalitis
These diseases are not naturally occurring in the UK, however you may be at risk if you travel abroad – particularly if you travel to a tropical country. Always make a travel appointment with a nurse or doctor at least 6 weeks before you go away to discuss any vaccinations you may need.
How can I avoid getting bitten by a mosquito?
Avoiding mosquito bites comes down to two things:
- Understanding where and when you are most at risk
- Taking the appropriate precautions
Mosquitoes thrive in warm and wet conditions, and are often found near bodies of water where they lay their eggs. You can reduce your risk of getting bitten by staying away from areas with stagnant water, and by keeping outdoor areas that might attract mosquitoes clean. For example you shouldn’t let a pond become stagnant, or allow empty pots to fill up with water.
In addition you can lower your risk by:
- Using mosquito repellent (ideally with 50% DEET)
- Using mosquito screens on windows and doors
- Sleeping under a mosquito net
- Covering exposed skin with long, loose clothing (this is harder for mosquitoes to bite through)
Taking these steps to protect yourself is particularly important when you’re in a country affected by mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria.
Do I need to take malaria tablets?
If you’re travelling to a country that is high-risk for malaria you may need malaria tablets. You’re more likely to be at risk if you’re travelling through rural areas, rather than beach areas or cities and towns. However to find out for certain you should speak to a doctor or travel nurse who can help assess your risk.
Even if you are taking malaria tablets you should still try to avoid getting bitten by following the steps described above. The mosquitoes that spread malaria are most active between dusk and dawn, which means you should be extra careful at night.
Find out more about preventing and treating mosquito bites by making an appointment with Doctor Care Anywhere.
Content reviewed by Jemma Shafier, a Doctor Care Anywhere GP