What Is Skeeter Syndrome?

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on April 28, 2022
4 min read

It’s common for a mosquito bite to cause a slight reaction on your skin. This reaction can worsen over the next 24 hours, but it usually gets better from then on, often clearing up within a week. 

More rarely, though, you may experience a more severe reaction called skeeter syndrome. Here’s what you need to know about this condition. 

Skeeter syndrome is diagnosed when you have a strong reaction to a mosquito bite. You may see a large area of swelling, soreness, redness, and itching or pain at the location of the bite. Such a reaction can develop within hours of the bite, and it may last for weeks. 

You may notice some redness and puffiness within a few minutes of the bite, followed by a red-brown bump showing up over the next two days. The bump is usually hard and itchy. Sometimes, you may get small blisters or small dark spots that look like an injury. 

You need to be in contact with a mosquito for at least six seconds for this type of reaction to take place.  

Skeeter syndrome is caused by the body’s reaction to polypeptides found in a female mosquito’s saliva. Polypeptides are chains of molecules called amino acids.

A female mosquito needs to feed on blood to produce eggs. Mosquitos use a mouthpart called a proboscis to pierce your skin and suck up the blood. While they suck blood, they also inject a small amount of saliva into your body because the saliva contains a substance that stops the blood from clotting. Male mosquitos don’t bite humans. 

Skeeter syndrome is rare, but some people are more likely to get it than others.

  • Babies and children, as they have lower immunity. 
  • Adults bitten by a species of mosquito they’ve not come in contact with before. Polypeptides can differ from one mosquito species to the next. A person can have Skeeter syndrome from getting bitten by one species but have no reaction to a bite from another species.
  • People who have an immune system disorder. That’s the system that protects your body from infections. 

If you’ve had several mosquito bites, you become less sensitive to the saliva, so severe types of reactions like Skeeter syndrome are not very common.  

A large area of swelling, soreness, and redness with pain or itchiness is common in a severe reaction. In addition, you may become feverish. Skeeter syndrome symptoms can also include hives, a type of skin rash. Your lymph nodes, parts of your immune system, may also get swollen. 

Your primary care physician or doctor can assess whether you have skeeter syndrome by looking at the affected area on your skin. There is no blood test to check for the syndrome, so your doctor will usually arrive at their diagnosis after finding out if a mosquito has bitten you.

Your doctor will want to know your symptoms and how long you’ve been having them before they suggest a treatment plan. They will also check your medical history and ask about medicines, vitamins, supplements, and any other form of treatments you’re taking currently.

Skeeter syndrome treatment usually involves oral antihistamines and topical steroid creams.

Oral antihistamines are a class of drugs used to treat the symptoms of allergies. They are taken through the mouth. Topical steroid creams are creams, lotions, or ointments containing steroids that help fight inflammation in the body. These are to be applied to your skin near the site of the infection. Sometimes, your doctor may ask you to take oral steroids.

Avoid scratching your bites as that can lead to an infection. 

There are several different things you can do to help prevent mosquito bites: 

Use insect repellants. Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellants. As long as you follow the product label instructions, they should be safe and work well for pregnant and breastfeeding women. You will always want to follow the instructions, though, to ensure safe application.

An EPA registration can tell you that the repellent has had its effectiveness confirmed. It can be unclear how effective natural insect repellants or non-registered ones are.

Avoid using insect repellants containing oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) or para-menthane-diol (PMD) on children under 3 years of age. Avoid applying insect repellent on your child’s hands, mouth, and eyes. You will also want to avoid applying it to any cuts or open infections that your child has.

Cover your body. Use long-sleeved tops and long pants to protect your body from bites. Thicker clothing can be harder for mosquitos to bite through.

Treat your wearables. Treat your clothes and even things like boots, mosquito nets, or the tents you’re sleeping in with a 0.5% solution of an insecticide called Permethrin. Permethrin can kill mosquitos on contact. You can also buy clothes that have been treated with Permethrin for when you’re traveling.

Avoid applying Permethrin directly on your skin.

Use mosquito nets and screen guards. Use mosquito nets in hotel rooms with no air conditioning or on occasions when you’re sleeping outside. Use protective screen guards for your doors and windows. Follow up with indoor pesticides if you’ve had mosquitos or use the services of a professional pest control professional.

Use air conditioning as much as possible when you’re indoors.

Manage areas that hold water. You may have water features or areas that hold water both inside and outside your home, like buckets, pools, flowerpots, birdbaths, or trash containers. Empty these containers once a week and clean and scrub them from the inside out.

Fill tree holes so they don’t get clogged with water. Also, repair cracks and holes in your septic tank if you have one. Cover open vents and plumbing pipes.

Clear out areas that are damp and humid like the inside of your closets, the space under your sinks, or your laundry room.

Skeeter syndrome is rare. Call your doctor if you suspect that you have skeeter syndrome or if your mosquito bite symptoms are getting worse. Follow best practices both indoors and outdoors to prevent mosquito bites and safeguard your health.