Bites - mosquito and flea
Most bites are harmless
Bite remedies / treatment
Most bites are harmless
Most insect bites create a local irritation, where the site of the sting may be red, inflamed, painful, swollen and itchy for minutes, hours or a day. Most bites are generally annoying but harmless.
Flea and mosquito bites develop into itchy red bumps. The first reactions develop within a few minutes of the bite and last for a few hours. Delayed reactions take around a day to develop, and last for up to a week.
However, if there is a strong allergic reaction, with breathlessness or swelling near the mouth or throat, this may need emergency treatment. Other severe symptoms which may occur hours, days or weeks after the bite include fever, rashes, joint pain, headache, conjunctivitis, swollen glands, chills, nausea, mouth or throat ulcers and lethargy.
Over 3,500 different species of mosquitoes have been identified, and they exist in all parts of the world except Antarctica. In warm and humid tropical regions they are active year round, but in temperate regions they hibernate over winter.
Some, but not all mosquitoes carry diseases that may infect humans. They include viral diseases like dengue fever, Chikungunya/Ross river virus, yellow fever; and parasitic diseases like malaria and elephantiasis.
Different species and strains of mosquitoes bite people under different conditions. For example, some attack people in houses, others while people are outside or walking in forests.
Most, but not all mosquitoes feed at dawn or dusk, others may feed any time. Again, most but not all species feed on blood, and of those that do, it is only the female mosquitoes that feed on blood.
Firstly, blood-sucking mosquitoes inject saliva where they have pierced the skin. The saliva stops blood clotting. Unfortunately, it is also how most infections get into the victim.
Mosquitoes are generally attracted by carbon dioxide and other components of the breath, and by perspiration.
Mosquitoes prefer the smell of some individuals over others, for two main reasons. First, different people eat different diets, and foods express themselves through the skin in sweat and sebum. Second and more importantly, every person has a very different microbiome on their skin. These microorganisms metabolise the various chemicals on our skin into new compounds that mosquitoes like or dislike. Your medications (particularly antibiotics), diet, state of health, lifestyle, (over) cleanliness, fitness, age and other factors can all affect the microbiome on your skin.
- Vitamin B6. There is something in vitamin B6 that makes you smell most unattractive to mosquitoes.
- Garlic. Not quite as effective as vitamin B6, but another smell that mosquitoes do not like. Eat one clove of raw garlic per day.
- Lemon juice. Use your hands to spread a little lemon juice on the exposed parts of your skin. Mozzies and other insects don't like it.
- Avoid dark and black clothing. Mosquitoes are instinctively attracted to a black background, where they are harder to see.
- Avoid sugar. Throughout Grow Youthful I emphasise avoiding sugar for health and longevity. But another reason is that mosquitoes and other insects are attracted by the sugar on your skin and in your sweat and blood.
- Avoid perfumes, deodorants and strong smells. Most smells, including unwashed body and sweat smells, attract mosquitoes.
- Electric fan. Mosquitoes are relatively weak fliers, flying slowly at less than 2 km per hour (1.5 mph). An electric fan may blow at 20 km per hour, and they simply can't fly into such a gale. In addition, mosquitos zero in on their target attracted by heat, body odours and carbon dioxide. When a female mosquito senses the warmth and odours, she typically flies a zigzag path within the plume to until hitting the source. The fan completely disperses all these attractants. An oscillating fan works best. According to a study in The Journal of Medical Entomology (3), "Fan-generated wind strongly reduced the mosquito catches... We recommend that fan-generated wind should be pursued as a practical means of protecting humans or pets from mosquitoes in the backyard setting."
Fleas are agile wingless insects that can jump as high as 7 inches (18 cm) and as far as 13 inches (33 cm). They have hard bodies, and adapt to living in the hair of their particular host, such as cats, dogs, humans, rats and birds. Fleas that have specialised on one type of host (such as a cat) may use other mammals (such as a human) as hosts.
Fleas annoy their hosts by causing itching. The animal or bird may try to remove the pest by biting, pecking or scratching, even to the point of hair or feather loss. Some people and animals suffer allergic reaction to flea saliva resulting in rashes. Flea bites generally result in the formation of a slightly raised, swollen itching spot with a single puncture point at the centre (similar to a mosquito bite). The bites often appear in clusters or lines of two bites, and can remain itchy and inflamed for up to several weeks afterwards.
Most flea bites are merely irritating. However, fleas can carry serious diseases. This includes a variety of viral diseases; bacterial diseases such as rickettsia, typhus, pulicosis and yersinia pestis; helminths such as tapeworm; and protozoa such as trypanosome.
Three quarters of a flea's life is spent somewhere other than on its host. If you have a flea infestation or pets with fleas, you need to treat the host's environment. Thorough vacuuming, washing linens in hot water, and treating all hosts in the immediate environment (the entire household, for example) are essential. Their total life cycle can be as short as one year, but may be several years in ideal conditions, so the treatment will need to be repeated over many months or on a regular basis.
Diatomaceous earth can also be used as a home flea treatment, but needs care because it is dangerous to people and pets when inhaled. Baking soda and table salt can also be sprinkled onto a carpet and worked into the fibres down to where the larvae and eggs are to dehydrate and kill them.
Bite remedies / treatment
- Do not scratch or squeeze bites - this will make them more inflamed, and will spread infection. However, you can use a brush to scratch the area surrounding the bite (but not the bite itself) and run hot water (about 49C or 120F) around it to relieve itching for several hours by reducing histamine-induced skin blood flow.(2)
- Tea tree oil is an effective anti-inflammatory, reducing swelling and itching. (1)
- Essential oils. Basil, camphor, chamomile, lavender, mint and rosemary essential oils also do a good job in soothing and relieving bug bites.
- Gum turpentine.
- See details of remedies recommended by Grow Youthful's visitors, and their experience with them.
1. Anti-inflammatory Activity of Tea Tree Oil.
Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation, Australia. February 2001.
2. Gil Yosipovitch, Katherine Fast, Jeffrey D. Bernhard. Noxious Heat and Scratching Decrease Histamine-Induced Itch and Skin Blood Flow. 2005. Journal of Investigative Dermatology 125: 1268-1272.
3. Hoffmann EJ, Miller JR. Reassessment of the role and utility of wind in suppression of mosquito (Diptera: Culicidae) host finding: stimulus dilution supported over flight limitation. J Med Entomol. 2003 Sep;40(5):607-14.