Topic updated: June 2012

Bites & Stings

Warm weather makes it easier to spend more time outdoors, but it also brings out the bugs. Ticks are usually harmless. But a tick bite can lead to Lyme disease, which is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. The bacteria are transmitted to people by the black-legged deer tick, which is
about the size of a pinhead and usually lives on deer.

Infected ticks can also cause other diseases, such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Another insect-borne illness, West Nile virus, is transmitted by infected mosquitoes and usually produces mild symptoms in healthy people. But the illness can be serious for older people and those with compromised immune systems.

Most reactions to bees and other stinging insects are mild, but severe allergic reactions can be deadly. An allergic reaction can occur even if a
person has been stung before with no complications.

Here are tips for preventing and treating bites and stings:

What can I do to keep insects away?

  • Use structural barriers such as window screens and netting.
  • Avoid wooded, brushy, and grassy areas when possible.
  • Don’t wear heavily scented soaps and perfumes.
  • Use caution eating outside and drinking; don’t leave drinks and garbage cans uncovered.
  • Don’t wear bright colors, which attract bees.
  • Wear long sleeves and long pants when possible.
  • Tuck pant legs into socks or shoes.
  • Wear a hat for extra protection.
  • Get rid of containers with standing water that give mosquitoes a breeding ground. Examples include water in flowerpots and outdoor pet dishes.
  • Use insect repellent if nonchemical methods are ineffective and you spend time in tall grass and woody areas.
  • Treat camping gear, clothes, and shoes with permethrin, which repels and kills ticks, mosquitoes, and other insects. Clothing that is pre-treated with permethrin is also commercially available.

What’s the proper way to use insect repellent?

  • It’s okay to use insect repellent and sunscreen at the same time. The general recommendation is to apply sunscreen first, followed by repellent.
  • There are also some combination products that contain both insect repellent and sunscreen. FDA regulates sunscreen as an over-the counter (OTC) drug. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates insect repellent products.
  • Use insect repellent that contains active ingredients that have been registered with EPA. An EPA registration number on the product label means the product has been evaluated by EPA to ensure that it will not pose unreasonable harmful effects on people and the environment.
  • Spray insect repellent on clothes or skin, but not on the face.
  • Don’t use insect repellent on babies. Repellent used on older children should contain no more than 10 percent DEET. Oil of eucalyptus products should not be used in children under 3 years.
  • Don’t use insect repellent that’s meant for people on your pets.
  • Use insect repellent according to the labeled instructions.
  • Avoid applying it to children’s hands, around the eyes, or to areas where there are cuts and irritated skin.
  • Store insect repellent out of children’s reach.
  • Wash the repellent off with soap and water and contact a Poison Control Center (1-800-222-1222) if you (or your child) experience a reaction to insect repellent.
  • After returning indoors, wash skin with soap and water to remove repellent.
  • Read more of this article and related materials from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

thistle blossom with a bee on it

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