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Mosquito bites

Mosquito bites leave itchy, red lumps on the skin. They can also cause swelling and blisters. In tropical climates, mosquitoes carry malaria, and their bites are the predominant cause of infection in humans.

  1. Leave a white and red bump that appears very quickly
  2. Can lead to soreness, itching and blisters
  3. In some parts of the world can transmit malaria

You should seek emergency medical attention immediately if you develop any symptoms consistent with malaria after visiting an affected region. If a mosquito bite is otherwise causing you discomfort or you’re concerned that it has become infected, you can speak to one of our doctors online using our secure video consultation facility.

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Description

What are mosquito bites?

Mosquitoes are very common. They are present across the world, but tend to be much greater in numbers in warmer climates. Most of the time, being bitten by a mosquito in the UK will not lead to any complications, as mosquitoes in North and Western Europe do not typically carry infectious disease. However, if you are travelling in a country with a particularly high malaria rate, antimalarials are essential.

Who gets mosquito bites?

Mosquitoes are attracted to certain people more than others. The level of carbon dioxide, body odour, secretion, blood type and lactic acid levels are some of the factors that attract a mosquito. Some basic prevention measures to avoid mosquitoes include using insect repellent (ideally containing DEET), creating a draft, avoiding standing near water for too long (where mosquitoes tend to gather more) and wearing clothing that covers skin. 

Mosquitoes are attracted to blood, so they will normally bite a person in areas where the skin and flesh is thinner, and where they can access blood vessels more easily. These areas tend to include around the ankles, exposed areas on the feet, the arms and wrists, and around the neck.

What should I do if I get a mosquito bite?

Although the itchiness from a mosquito bite can be extremely irritating, it should pass in a few days. It is important not to scratch the bite, so as to minimise the chance of getting an infection, or irritating the bite further. If you develop an allergic reaction to a mosquito bite, this is known as Skeeter syndrome. It's a skin reaction to mosquito saliva, and is a self-containing condition. It is often characterised by severe swelling around the bite, and sometimes a fever.

People who are particularly sensitive to mosquito bites may also develop bullae, which are large, fluid-filled blisters. Again, these are self-limiting, but the areas affected will need to be kept clean and bacteria-free to limit the risk of infection.

How can I prevent mosquito bites?

Mosquitoes are not a health concern in the UK for the most part, but globally they are the main carriers of malaria, the Zika virus and yellow fever. Tropical climates, particularly those in Sub-Saharan Africa, South America and Asia, are the regions where malaria risk is highest. 

It’s important to take precautions when travelling to these areas by using repellent (containing DEET), wearing long sleeved clothing that covers vulnerable biting sites, and taking antimalarials. It’s still possible however to develop malaria even if all these precautions are observed. It is a life-threatening condition, so if you notice symptoms such as a high temperature, vomiting, diarrhoea and a headache, you should go to hospital for a blood test right away. It may be the case that if you have malaria, you will be prescribed antibiotic treatment like Doxycycline, or an antimalarial medicine such as Malarone or Maloff Protect.

You can book an appointment to speak to one of our doctors about mosquito bites online. Choose a time that suits you. One of our doctors will be able to issue advice about how to manage your bite, and whether you will need any further treatment. 

Page last reviewed:  12/06/2020
Diagnosis and treatment

How are mosquito bites diagnosed?

Mosquito bites can be easily diagnosed judging by their appearance on the skin. They often leave a hard bump and a red swelling, and in some cases the bumps can form into blisters (or bullae).  

Skeeter syndrome may develop from a mosquito bite. This is an allergic reaction to the bite that leads to inflammation, and rarely, a fever, which’s caused by the mosquito saliva left on the skin. 

Will I need tests?

In terms of the bite itself - not usually. However, if you have recently travelled to an area where the risk of malaria is high, and you develop a high temperature, headache, vomiting or diarrhoea, you should seek medical attention as soon as you can. If it is possible that you have malaria, you will have to take a blood test to check whether you have been infected, so that treatment can start where needed.

What will a doctor normally advise?

Bites are self-limiting and typically resolve on their own. If it's particularly itchy, a doctor may advise applying a lotion such as calamine, or a cold compress to soothe it. If the reaction is more severe, you may need an antihistamine to reduce the swelling.

If there is a risk that you may have malaria due to the presence of symptoms, a doctor will recommend that you go to hospital to get tested as soon as possible. 

What treatments are there for mosquito bites?

For uncomplicated mosquito bites, treatment will not be needed if the bite isn’t particularly itchy, and it will clear up in a few days. 

Certain antihistamine medicines may help to reduce a mild allergic skin reaction to a bite, as can mild corticosteroid creams. You can normally get these over the counter without a prescription.

If there are signs that the bite has become infected with bacteria, antibiotic treatment may be advised.

Suspected malaria cases will need to be treated in hospital with antimalarial drugs, such as Malarone, Doxycycline (an antibiotic) or Lariam.

Page last reviewed:  12/06/2020
Questions and Answers

How is a mosquito bite treated?

It depends. Mosquitoes in the Northern Hemisphere rarely carry malaria, so it’s unlikely that you’ll develop an infection from a bite acquired in the UK or Northern Europe. Irritation and a local reaction may develop, in which cases using after bite cream or an antihistamine can be beneficial.

Mosquito bites acquired in malarious regions carry a higher risk. Someone who develops symptoms consistent with malaria after travelling to or returning from a country where malaria is present should seek emergency medical help.

What treatments are there?

After bite cream is typically available over the counter from pharmacies, as are antihistamines, which might be used if a mild allergic reaction has occurred.

Antimalarial treatment for someone who has malaria will need to be administered in hospital under surveillance.

Are there side effects?

Side effects sometimes associated with after bite creams include a burning sensation and skin irritation. These can however often be symptoms of the bite itself, rather than as a result of the cream.

Antihistamines can cause tiredness or dry mouth. 

Common side effects of antimalarials include nausea, vomiting and dizziness. Less common side effects include an upset stomach and abdominal pain.

Can I consult a doctor about mosquito bites online?

Go to a hospital right away if you develop any symptoms which could be related to malaria (such as a fever, diarrhoea or vomiting) after travelling to a malarious region. You’ll likely need to have treatment administered via a drip and be closely monitored.

You can consult with our doctors online if you have a mosquito bite which is causing a local reaction or other skin problems. Each consultation is carried out by a UK doctor registered with the General Medical Council, and appointments are available at a time that best suits you.

Page last reviewed:  12/06/2020

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