Mosquito Bites

What Are Mosquito Bites?

A mosquito bite is a red, itchy bump you get when a mosquito bites your skin and it’s spit gets into your blood. Saliva from a mosquito triggers an allergic reaction that causes the area of the bite to become red, itchy, and swollen.

Only female mosquitoes bite. Warm temperatures, light, body odor, and sweat are some things that make you a mosquito target.

Most people have had mosquito bites at some time in their life. Usually, you swat a mosquito away and cope with the unpleasant but temporary itch. But some mosquito bites can spread viruses and cause serious diseases.

Mosquito Bite Symptoms

When a mosquito bites, you might feel a quick sting, or you might not feel it at all at first.

The main symptom of a mosquito bite is a puffy, red bump on skin a few hours or days after you’re bitten. The bump is often itchy and may look a little swollen.

Some people with mosquito bites get large hives or blisters. If you have very big and uncomfortable mosquito bites, and home remedies don’t work, call your doctor. Prescription treatments may help relieve the itch and swelling.

Mosquito Bite Treatments and Home Remedies

It’s tough advice, but leave the bite alone. When you scratch, it creates openings in your skin that let bacteria in and cause infection.

To relieve the itch and lower your chances of an infection:

  • Wash the area with soap and water.
  • Apply calamine lotion or anti-itch cream.
  • Put an ice pack on the bite.
  • Take an over-the-counter antihistamine.
  • Raise the area of the bite to reduce and prevent swelling.
  • If a bite causes fever, vomiting, or shortness of breath, call 911 or go to an emergency room immediately.

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OTC and Home Remedies

Many natural and home remedies have been touted as ways to stop the sting and itch of a mosquito bite.

  • Baking soda . Mix a tablespoon of baking soda and a bit of water to make an itch-relieving paste. Gently apply to the bite. Wait 10 minutes, then rinse.
  • Oatmeal . When it comes to oatmeal for mosquito bites, don’t grab what’s in your kitchen. You want to look for colloidal oatmeal creams or bath treatments, available at most stores and pharmacies. Colloidal oatmeal binds to your skin, locking in moisture. It’s used to treat itchy conditions like eczema and psoriasis, and could help soothe a bug bite, too.
  • Basil. This fragrant herb pulls double duty when it comes to battling mosquitoes. Plant it and it keeps mosquitos away. Crush it and rub it gently on your skin, and some research suggests it soothes the itch of a mosquito bite.
  • Aloe vera. The gooey, clear gel found inside an aloe vera plant has been used for more than 6,000 years to treat many ailments. It’s proven to be a helpful remedy for burns and itchy skin due to psoriasis.
  • Chamomile. This herb, often found in teas, is used to relieve anxiety and insomnia. Some say applying it to the skin can help soothe skin rashes and irritations, but there’s not enough information to say for sure if it works. If you’re allergic to ragweed, you may have a reaction to chamomile, too.
  • Menthol. Menthol products cool the skin, which can temporarily relieve the itch. Rubbing a bit on a mosquito bite might briefly stop the desire to scratch. You’ll find menthol in a variety of drug store liquids, skin creams, and ointments.

Diseases Caused by Mosquito Bites

A mosquito bite can cause you to itch, but it’s usually a minor annoyance. However, some mosquitoes can carry viruses that cause disease, including West Nile and Zika. If an infected mosquito bites you and you become sick, you have a mosquito-borne disease.

West Nile Virus

Most people who get West Nile virus don't have any symptoms. About 1 in 5 will have a fever and other flu-like symptoms. Feeling worn out could take months to go away completely. A few people get a more serious infection that causes brain swelling, or meningitis. There's a very small chance you could die.

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People in 48 of the 50 U.S. states, Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and West and Central Asia have had West Nile.

Encephalitis

Mosquitoes can pass on viruses that cause inflammation around your brain and spinal cord. (The brain swelling with a serious West Nile infection is a kind of encephalitis.)

What type you could get depends on where you are:

  • LaCrosse -- Most cases occur in the upper Midwestern, mid-Atlantic, and Southeastern states.
  • St. Louis -- throughout the U.S., especially Florida and Gulf of Mexico states
  • Eastern Equine -- Atlantic, Gulf Coast, and Great Lakes states; the Caribbean; Central and South America
  • Japanese -- Asia and the Western Pacific

Your doctor can give you medicine to ease your fever and sore throat. You'll need emergency care right away for serious symptoms, such as confusion, seizures, and muscle weakness to prevent brain damage and other complications. You can get shots to prevent Japanese encephalitis before you travel to the area.

Zika Virus

First found in Africa in the 1940s, this virus has spread to South and Central America, Mexico, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands.

Most people don't know they have Zika. The symptoms are mild and usually go away in less than a week. You may have a fever, joint or muscle pain, pinkeye, or a rash. The virus has been linked to Guillain-Barre syndrome and a birth defect called microcephaly.

  • Guillain-Barre is a nervous system disorder that can cause weakness and paralysis. Most people recover.
  • Microcephaly causes a baby's head to be small and not fully develop. Babies with this condition may have developmental and intellectual delays and other problems.

There's no vaccine to prevent the Zika virus. The CDC recommends pregnant women not travel to areas with ongoing Zika infections.

Chikungunya Virus

Found mostly in the Caribbean and South America, chikungunya has been spreading in the U.S. It causes serious joint pain that may last several weeks. You'll need rest and fluids until symptoms go away. Your doctor may suggest pain relief medicine, too.

Dengue Fever

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You'll likely get a sudden high fever and may bleed a little from your nose or gums. It can be very uncomfortable. Rest and treating the symptoms are the only things you can do for dengue.

Some people get a more severe form, known as dengue hemorrhagic fever. If your small blood vessels become leaky and fluid starts to build up in your belly and lungs, you'll need medical care right away.

Usually people in the U.S. with dengue bring it back with them from warm parts of Africa, Asia, Pacific Islands, Central and South America, and the Caribbean -- especially Puerto Rico. In the last 20 years, though, there have been outbreaks in South Texas, Hawaii, and the Florida Keys.

Yellow Fever

You're not likely to catch yellow fever because most countries in tropical areas of Africa and the Americas require travelers to get the vaccine for it. Most people that get yellow fever won't notice anything, but some may feel like they have a mild case of the flu. If you get symptoms, rest, fluids, and medication can help, although you could feel weak and tired for several months.

Some people who have mild symptoms develop severe symptoms after they start feeling better, which could cause death. Serious symptoms include a high fever, yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice), bleeding, and liver and kidney failure.

Malaria

No one has gotten sick with malaria in the U.S. since the early 1950s. But this oldest mosquito-borne disease causes more than 400,000 deaths worldwide each year. Countries around the equator in Africa and tropical islands in the Pacific, such as Papua New Guinea, have the most cases of malaria.

You can take drugs to help prevent malaria when you travel. Researchers are working on a vaccine.

Mosquito Bite Prevention

Many mosquitoes live for 2-3 months. Most will die or hibernate when the temperature drops below 50 degrees. In the U.S., mosquito season begins in early spring, peaks in the summer, and ends with the first freeze. In parts of the world with warmer weather, they may be active year-round.

To prevent mosquito bites and the illnesses they spread:

  • Wear light-colored clothing.
  • Put mosquito repellent on your bare skin.
  • Get rid of places that water can collect around your home.
  • Stay away from standing water -- where mosquitoes breed.
  • Keep water in pools and landscaping moving.
  • Use screens on your windows or a mosquito net when sleeping outdoors.
  • Stay indoors at dusk and dawn, when mosquitoes are most active.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on June 23, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

State of Connecticut, Mosquito Management Program: "Mosquitos: Frequently Asked Questions."

American Mosquito Control Association: "Mosquito-Borne Diseases."

CDC: "West Nile Virus," "Eastern Equine Encephalitis," "Japanese Encephalitis," "Chikungunya virus," "Dengue Homepage," "Yellow Fever," "Malaria," "Zika Virus," "Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report," "Guillain-Barre syndrome and flu vaccine," "Facts about Microcephaly," “About Mosquitoes.”

Wisconsin Division of Public Health: "West Nile Virus Infection."

Pal, P. Journal of Virology, published online May 14, 2014.

Pan American Health Organization: "Zika virus infection and Zika fever: Frequently asked questions."

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: "Guillain-Barre Syndrome Fact Sheet."

The Atlantic: "What to Know About Zika Virus."

Environmental Protection Agency: “General Information About Mosquitos.”

CDC: “Mosquito Bites: Everyone is at Risk!”

American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology: “Take A Bite Out of Mosquito Stings.”

Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station: "Frequently Asked Questions About Mosquitoes."

CDC: “Mosquito Bite Symptoms and Treatment.”

DermNet New Zealand: "Oatmeal."

Natural Society: “7 Plants that Repel Mosquitoes Naturally.”

Mather Hospital Northwell Health: “Home Remedies for Those Itchy Mosquito Bites.”

Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Commercial Essential Oils as Potential Antimicrobials to Treat Skin Diseases.

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: “Aloe Vera.”

Mayo Clinic: “Mosquito Bites.”

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