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Bites and stings

bite; sting; insect bite; insect sting; sandfly; mosquito; flea; spider; bee; wasp; allergy; first aid; antihistamine; ants; snake; caterpillar; centipede; itch; bed bug; bedbug; European wasp. ;


When you read 'bites and stings' what do you think of?

  • biting insectSharks with their terrifying teeth?
  • Crocodiles gently smiling as they chomp?
  • Wild dogs or cats with ferocious fangs?
  • Snakes hissing and spitting venom?
  • Huge hairy spiders?
  • Giant insects zooming in for a piece of you?

Well, I have those sorts of nightmares too!

Occasionally some unfortunate people are bitten by these creatures, but most bites and stings are from much smaller beasties - like flying, jumping and crawling insects, quite small spiders and some things which look pretty tame really (sandflies, mosquitoes and fleas, to name just a few).

Why do insects bite and sting?

bee stingSome insects, such as bees or wasps, use stings to protect themselves or their nests. If they feel threatened, they put their stinger into a person's skin and inject poison through it. (That's why their sting is painful - the poison irritates your skin.)

Some insects like fleas, headlice and bed bugs, feed on the blood of animals or humans.

Female mosquitoes need blood from human or other warm-blooded animals to be able to lay eggs. (That's why only female mosquitoes bite.)

What happens when you are bitten or stung?

  • mozzie biteThe skin can be red or swollen around the bite or sting.
  • It is sometimes painful.
  • It could be itchy.

Some people have very sensitive skin. They may have an allergic reaction to the bite or sting.

Some of these things might happen:

  • An itchy rash ('hives').
  • The person could feel sick and want to vomit.
  • There could be problems breathing.
  • The person might faint.
  • It could become hard to swallow.

It is important to see a doctor if these symptoms appear.

You may already know that you have a severe reaction to some insect stings or bites, and you may already have been given adrenalin to inject or antihistamine (say anti-hiss-ta-meen) tablets or medicine to help you. (Most kids who have a severe reaction nowadays get an epi-pen which has adrenalin in it). Antihistamines and adrenalin stop the lining of your airways from swelling up and making it hard to breathe.

Our topic Anaphylaxis - when an allergy can be really dangerous can tell you more about this.

Some biting insects can spread diseases when they bite you (eg. mosquitoes can give you malaria or Ross River virus).

What to do for insect bites and stings

  • Wash the area that has been attacked by that annoying creature.
  • Scrape the stinger out if it's a bee sting. (If you pull it straight out you could squeeze more poison in - you have to gently try to slide the stinger back out of your skin.)
  • Use your epi-pen if you get severe reactions, or get someone else to do it for you. Make sure that someone goes to get help for you too.
  • Use ice to keep the swelling down and to make it less painful.
  • Ask mum or dad for an antihistamine tablet if you are swollen and itchy (you might have to go to your doctor to get this).
  • Rest the bitten part of your body. Raising your arm or leg (whichever has been bitten) can be helpful too.
  • Mum or whoever looks after you may give you some paracetamol (para-see-ta-mol) if it is painful.
  • Try not to scratch, as you don't want the bite to get infected.
  • If the bite gets all yucky or you are feeling worse, tell mum or dad and they may take you to see a doctor.

Sounds like being bitten could be pretty awful for some people, doesn't it?

Maybe we need to look at how to avoid being bitten!

Avoiding bites and stings

Around and about

  • Keep still if a bee flies near you. Even if it lands on you it isn't likely to sting unless you try to hit it.
  • Wear shoes if you are outside.
  • Watch where you walk. Don't go annoying ants by stomping on their nests.
  • Don't play around bins or rubbish.
  • biting bugKeep away from wasp nests (European wasps make their nests underground or in dark places).
  • Clean up after yourself. Bits of food and empty drink cans attract insects and other creatures.
  • Avoid ants. They all bite and some of them can really hurt.
  • Don't go near or pick up snakes, even if you think they are not poisonous. Don't try to kill them either - they get quite annoyed when you try!
  • Hairy caterpillars cannot bite, but some can leave their hairs stuck in your skin, which will irritate just as badly as a bite. Centipedes might bite if you touch them, and can give you a severe burning pain.
  • Wear long sleeved and full leg clothes, socks and insect repellent when sandflies and mosquitoes may be around.
  • Check before you drink in case a wasp or other insect has flown into your drink container.

Around your house

  • transferring head liceTell mum or dad if you think you have head lice so that you can all use the special lice-killing shampoo and get rid of them (see our topic Head lice - what to do).
  • Keep your room tidy so those spiders can't find lots of places to lurk.
  • Wear gloves if you are helping in the garden, cleaning cupboards in the house or tidying up the garden shed. Spiders like to hang out where they think they won't be disturbed. They can get very angry when someone destroys their home. (So can rats and mice, and they bite too!)
  • Don't let pets into the house if they have fleas, or the fleas may hop on you for a quick snack of your blood. (They won't stay on you but they can still bite.)
  • Help to keep the garden tidy so that 'outside' insects, snakes and other 'bitey' creatures can't find places to make their homes. Especially get rid of any water lying around - eg. in buckets, wading pools, trays under pot plants - where mosquito larvae (wrigglers) could grow.
  • Watch out for bees and wasps. If they have made a home in your area, tell mum or dad. Don't go near them yourself. (Local councils may have someone who can come and get rid of the nest).
  • If you are feeling itchy when you are in bed, then maybe you have something in there with you! Bedbugs can be transported from place to place very easily. If you have had a sleepover somewhere or have been camping recently get mum, dad or whoever looks after you to check and wash in hot water any bedding that went with you, just in case a bug has managed to move in with you.

Did you know?

  • European wasps can sting many times because they don't leave their stinger in you.
  • Bees can only sting once because they leave their stinger in your skin.

Dr Kim says:

Dr Kim

"Wear shoes when you are walking outside. It's a bit scary to step on a bee and I don't suppose that the bee thinks it's much fun either."



Nasty, biting, stinging things,
Can cause you pain and itches too.
Just think how awful it would be
If they grew as big as you.


Game about pain

Game on the AboutKidsHealth website from Canada

The game on the website is about Pain, and you might find it fun to play.

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We've provided this information to help you to understand important things about staying healthy and happy. However, if you feel sick or unhappy, it is important to tell your mum or dad, a teacher or another grown-up.


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