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Prevention - Insect bites and stings

There are some simple precautions you can take to reduce your risk of 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 or you're travelling to an area where there's a risk of picking up a serious illness.

Basic precautions to prevent insect bites and stings

The following measures can help you avoid insect bites and stings:

  • remain calm and move away slowly if you encounter wasps, hornets or bees – do not 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 skin – repellents that contain 50% DEET (diethyltoluamide) are most effective
  • avoid using products with strong perfumes, such as soaps, shampoos and deodorants – these can attract insects
  • be careful around flowering plants, rubbish, compost, stagnant water, and in outdoor areas where food is served
  • never disturb insect nests – if a nest is in your house or garden, arrange to have it removed (GOV.UK has 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 tick bites

Ticks are small spider-like creatures that are mainly found in woodland and heath areas. They attach to your skin, suck your blood and can cause Lyme disease in some cases.

You can reduce your risk of being bitten by a tick if you:

  • keep to footpaths and avoiding long grass when out walking
  • wear appropriate clothing in tick-infested areas (a long-sleeved shirt and trousers tucked into your socks)
  • wear light-coloured fabrics that may help you spot a tick on your clothes
  • use insect repellent on exposed skin
  • inspect your skin for ticks, particularly at the end of the day, including your head, neck and skin folds (armpits, groin, and waistband)
  • check your children's head and neck areas, including their scalp and make sure ticks are not brought home on your clothes
    • check your pets to help ensure they do not bring ticks into your home in their fur

It's important to remove any ticks you find as soon as possible.

Extra precautions when travelling abroad

The risk of becoming seriously ill from an insect bite or sting in the UK is small, but in some parts of the world insects can carry serious diseases such as malaria and you need to be extra careful.

It can help to:

  • find out what the risks are where you intend to travel and check if you need any vaccinations before travelling – vaccines can prevent some illnesses spread by insects, such as yellow fever. You can use the Travel Health Pro website to do this
  • speak to your GP about any extra precautions and medication you might need to take – for example, if you're visiting an area where there's a risk of malaria, you may be advised to bring a mosquito net and take antimalarial tablets to avoid malaria

Read more about travel illnesses and vaccinations.

Insect infestations

If you've been 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 poo in your animal's fur or bedding
  • crusting on your dog's fur is a sign of fleas
  • excessive scratching and grooming are a sign of fleas in cats
  • 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 vet if you're unsure whether your pet has fleas or mites.

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. GOV.UK has information about how your local council can help.

Page last reviewed: 08 July 2019
Next review due: 08 July 2022