Some bites and stings, like those from fire ants, wasps, hornets, and bees, are painful. Some can also spread illnesses, such as Lyme disease (black-legged tick), Rocky Mountain spotted fever (dog or wood tick), and West Nile virus (mosquito). The bites of other bugs, such as mosquitoes, mites, and fleas, are itchy and uncomfortable, but usually harmless.
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Learning to identify a bug bite by how it looks and feels will help you know whether to seek medical attention immediately or treat the skin bump at home.
Many bugs give us reason for pause, including poisonous spiders, chiggers, bees and lice. But few get under our skin — quite literally — like the tick. If you enjoy the outdoors, be careful of ticks — they can attach as you brush past grass and plants. Ticks don’t always carry diseases, and most bites are not serious. But they can carry diseases including Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
Once a tick latches onto skin, it often moves to the warm, moist armpits and groin — feeding on blood and passing on any disease it carries. A tick bite can also trigger an allergic reaction. If you have a tick, it is important to remove it properly. To prevent tick bites, keep your arms, legs, and head covered when outdoors. Use tick repellant with DEET on skin or clothing, or products with permethrin on clothing. Check for ticks after spending time in grassy or wooded areas.
2. Lyme Disease
In the U.S., the Western black–legged tick and the deer tick can carry Lyme disease bacteria. Infected ticks usually don’t spread the disease until they’ve been attached for at least 36 hours. The first sign of infection is usually a circular skin rash. Early symptoms may also include fever, headache, and fatigue. Untreated Lyme disease may spread to other parts of the body, including the muscles, joints, heart, and nervous system. Most cases of Lyme disease can be treated successfully with antibiotics.
3. Poisonous Black Widow Spiders
Wood piles and tree stumps — that’s where poisonous female black widows hide. She is long-legged and glossy black, with a distinctive orange, red, or yellow “hourglass” shape on her underside. These spiders are roughly ¼ inch wide and 1.5 inches long, counting their long legs.
Black widow spider bites may cause sharp, shooting pain up the limb, but they can also be painless. Look for one or two red fang marks, redness, tenderness, and a nodule at the bite site. Severe muscle cramps, nausea, vomiting, seizure, and a rise in blood pressure may follow soon after. Get medical care immediately. Anti-venom medicine is available. If possible, bring the spider with you for positive identification.
4. Brown Recluse Spiders Can Be Deadly
Hiding in attics and closets — in Midwestern and South central states — that’s where you’ll find brown recluse spiders. The spiders range in color from yellowish-tan to dark brown, with darker legs. Their venom is extremely poisonous, and their bite can cause serious wounds and infection. Yet you may not feel their bite.
When the brown recluse bites, it is often painless — then skin reddens, turns white, develops a red “bull’s–eye,” blisters, and becomes painful. These bites can be deadly in rare cases. Get medical care immediately. If you can, bring the spider with you for positive identification.