Preventing insect bites and stings 

There are a number of precautions you can take to avoid being bitten or stung by insects.

It's particularly important to follow this advice if you've had a bad reaction to an insect bite or sting in the past.

Some of the precautions you can take to minimise your risk of being bitten or stung by an insect are listed below.

  • move away slowly and don't panic if you encounter wasps, hornets or bees – don't wave your arms around or swat at them
  • cover exposed skin – if you're outside at a time of day when insects are particularly active, such as sunrise or sunset, cover your skin by wearing long sleeves and trousers
  • wear shoes when outdoors
  • apply insect repellent to exposed areas of skin, particularly in summer or early autumn, when stings are most likely to occur – repellents that contain diethyltoluamide (DEET) are most effective
  • avoid using products with strong perfumes, such as soaps, shampoos and deodorants – they can attract insects
  • avoid flowering plants, outdoor areas where food is served, rubbish and compost – regularly and carefully remove any fallen fruit in your garden and keep a well-fitting lid on dustbins
  • never disturb insect nests – wasps build nests in sheltered areas such as trees and roof spaces; if a nest is in or near your house, arrange to have it removed (see the GOV.UK website for details about pest control services and how your local council can help) 
  • avoid camping near water, such as ponds and swamps – mosquitoes and horseflies are commonly found near water
  • keep food and drink covered when eating or drinking outside, particularly sweet things – wasps or bees can also get into open drink bottles or cans you're drinking from
  • keep doors and windows closed or put thin netting or door beads over them to prevent insects getting inside the house – also keep the windows of your car closed to stop insects getting inside

Avoiding ticks

Ticks are small arachnids that are mainly found in woodland areas. They attach to your skin, suck your blood and can cause Lyme disease.

The best ways to avoid ticks include:

  • being aware of ticks and the type of habitats where ticks usually live
  • wearing appropriate clothing in tick-infested areas (a long-sleeve shirt and trousers tucked into your socks)
  • wearing light-coloured fabrics to help you spot a tick on your clothes
  • using insect repellents
  • inspecting your skin for ticks, particularly at the end of the day, including your head, neck and skin folds (armpits, groin, and waistband)
  • checking your children's head and neck areas, including their scalp
  • making sure ticks aren't brought home on your clothes
  • checking that pets don't bring ticks indoors on their fur

It's also important to remove any ticks you find as soon as possible. Find out how to safely remove a tick.

Infestation

If you're bitten by fleas, mites or bedbugs, you may have an infestation in your home. Try to find the source of the infestation before taking steps to eliminate it.

Signs of an infestation

The following are signs of an infestation:

  • fleas or flea faeces (stools) in your animal's fur or bedding are a sign of fleas
  • crusting on your dog's fur is a sign of fleas
  • excessive scratching and grooming are a sign of fleas in your cat
  • dandruff (flakes of skin) on your cat or dog is a sign of mites
  • spots of blood on your bed sheets are a sign of bedbugs
  • an unpleasant almond smell is a sign of bedbugs

Speak to your veterinary surgeon if you're unsure whether your pet has fleas.

Eliminating an infestation

Once you've identified the cause of the infestation, you'll need to eliminate it.

For flea infestations, treat the animal, its bedding, household carpets and soft furnishings with an insecticide. Thoroughly vacuum your carpets and soft furnishings.

For mite infestations, you should seek advice from your vet as aggressive treatment is required.

For bedbug infestations, your home will need to be thoroughly treated with an insecticide by a reputable pest control company. See the GOV.UK website for details of pest control services and more information about how your local council can help with an infestation.

Read more about bedbugs, including how to spot them and getting rid of them. 

Travelling abroad

Seek medical advice before travelling to a tropical area where there's a risk of catching malaria. You may need to take antimalarial tablets to avoid becoming infected.

When you reach your destination, make sure your accommodation has insect-proof screen doors and windows that close properly.

Sleeping under a mosquito net and spraying rooms with insecticide will also help prevent you being bitten.

Read more about preventing malaria.

Page last reviewed: 27/06/2014

Next review due: 27/06/2016