Preventing and Treating Mosquito Bites

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on April 08, 2011

It’s summer -- time to enjoy the outdoors! But we’re not the only ones. Bugs like mosquitoes thrive in the warmer weather, too. And that means more chances of itchy mosquito bites.

Try these methods for itch relief:

  • Wash the area with soap and water.
  • A cold compress or ice may help reduce itching and swelling.
  • Calamine lotion, an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream, or a topical antihistamine may also help relieve the itch.

Preventing Insect Bites

Your best bet is avoiding a bite to start with. It may be impossible to prevent all mosquito bites, but there are ways to reduce your risk.

  • Use insect repellent on exposed skin during prime mosquito hours -- usually from dawn to dusk. Also apply repellent when you’re in wooded or brushy areas.
  • According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), insect repellents with DEET or picaridin as active ingredients typically provide protection that lasts longer than others. Studies have also found that oil of lemon eucalyptus provides protection similar to products with low concentrations of DEET.
  • Wear long-sleeved tops and pants when outdoors.
  • Don’t let standing water accumulate around your yard. This is where mosquitoes breed. Keep your gutters clean, drain children’s pools, change the water in bird baths regularly, and empty excess water from flower pots.
  • Keep bugs out of your home by keeping your screens in good condition. Repair any screens with holes or tears.

Mosquitoes and West Nile Virus

Mosquito bites can be an itchy nuisance. But mosquitoes also can carry illness.

In other areas of the world, mosquitoes transmit malaria and Dengue fever. In the United States, mosquitoes can spread West Nile virus. For about 80% of people who are infected, this virus causes no symptoms. But in some people, West Nile virus can cause severe illness and even death. Those more at risk for getting sick from West Nile virus are people aged 50 and older.

In mild cases, symptoms may include:

Serious symptoms require a doctor's care. They include:

  • High fever
  • Muscle weakness
  • Vision loss
  • Neck stiffness
  • Disorientation or stupor
  • Tremors, convulsions, numbness, paralysis

Symptoms usually occur three days to two weeks after a bite from an infected mosquito. If you notice any severe symptoms, see your doctor right away. You can usually treat less severe symptoms, such as a mild fever or headache, at home.

Mosquito bites can be a pain, but with a little planning you don’t have to let them ruin your time outdoors.

Show Sources


J. Allen Meadows, MD, chair of the Public Education Committee with the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology.

David Leffell, MD, professor of Dermatology and Surgery at the Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, Conn., and author of Total Skin.

American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology web site, “Beware of Bug Bites and Stings.”

CDC web site, “West Nile Virus: What You Need to Know,” “What You Need to Know About Mosquito Repellent,” “It’s Time to Prepare for West Nile Virus.”

© 2011 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved. View privacy policy and trust info