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Bites and stings (Baby and infant)

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Bites and stings (Baby and infant)


Insect bites and stings are quite different attacks on our skin. Stings result when an insect is protecting itself when it feels threatened. Other than the initial pain of the attack, the sting can cause varying degrees of allergic reaction. A bite is a deliberate attack by the insect in order to feed from our blood. After the initial bite, the insect injects its saliva into the wound to allow the blood to flow and for the insect to feed. A reaction to the insect's saliva causes the bite to become red and swollen and to make it itch.
There are many insects that live in the UK that bite or sting to feed or protect themselves. Stingers include wasps, bees, hornets and ants. Biters include mosquitoes, midges, sand flies, horse flies and ticks. It is very rare to catch diseases from insect bites and stings in the UK but it is possible. For example if bitten by a tick when walking in fields where deer have been, the person may catch Lyme disease, a serious infection caused by bacteria (Borrelia burgdorferi) spread by ticks. Abroad, in places such as Africa, Asia and South America there are a number of diseases that can be caught through insect bites such as malaria, yellow fever, Dengue fever, and West Nile disease.
When stung by an insect your baby or infant feels immediate pain, causing her or him to cry. You will recognise this cry as being different from crying associated with hunger or tiredness and should check your child to find the cause. Look at exposed areas of skin, if your baby or infant has been stung, the area around the sting will swell and redden, later it may blister and produce an itchy rash.

If your baby or infant has been bitten it may take several minutes for the bite to become itchy and swell into a lump or redden. In the case of midges when they attack in swarms there may be several areas where they have successfully attacked. These areas become hot and itchy and can remain so for several days.

Some children are particularly sensitive to insect bites and stings and will suffer a severe allergic reaction resulting in dizziness, fainting, breathing difficulties, rash, raised pulse, sickness, or a swollen mouth and face. In very severe cases the victim may even collapse and die. This severe reaction is called anaphylactic shock.
There are precautions you can take to avoid your baby or infant being stung or bitten by insects.

Stings in the mouth or on the face and hands commonly occur in babies and infants when wasps, attracted by the sweet smell of drinks, ice cream, lollipops and sweets, are accidentally touched when eating or drinking. Keep an eye on your baby or infant when eating or drinking outdoors, if you see a wasp on or near your child, don't aggravate the insect by flapping around, react calmly and simply brush it away.

If you are being bitten by insects when outdoors, it is likely that your baby is being bitten too. Be aware of this and try to cover as much of your child's skin as possible with long trousers and tops with long sleeves. If in a pram or buggy, use an insect net to protect your baby or infant, particularly if she or he is asleep. Avoid areas such as ponds where mosquitoes, midges and horse flies commonly occur. When travelling abroad, cover the cot with a mosquito net, close all doors and windows at night and spray rooms with an insecticide or use electric vapour producing mosquito killers.

Insect repellents containing low concentrations of DEET or icaridin can be used on infants over 2 years of age. They should not be used on babies in case the ingredients come in contact with their eyes or lips. Even when applied correctly, it is possible that your baby will rub its eyes or suck its fingers, allowing the repellents to be absorbed.

If your infant has been playing or walking in fields where deer may have been, inspect your child's legs and arms closely for ticks; small brown spider-like insects attached to the skin. If present, get hold of the tick with a pair if tweezers and gently lift away from the skin without twisting.

Most bites and stings do not require special treatment. Wash the area and apply an antiseptic cream. If itching persists an application of calamine lotion or an antihistamine cream will help. Infants may also be given an antihistamine syrup if the reaction is severe. There are also products containing a mild local anaesthetic to alleviate pain and itching. Ordinary pain killers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen may be given to babies over 3 months of age for pain relief. Do not let your child scratch the bite or sting, as this will make the itch worse and may cause an infection. Do not burst any blisters as these help to protect the skin. Scratch mittens can be put on babies to help prevent scratching.

If your child has suffered a severe allergic reaction to an insect bite or sting previously, carry self-injectable adrenaline with you and make sure you know how to use it if your child exhibits wheezing or swallowing difficulties after being bitten or stung.

When to consult your pharmacist
Whether members of your family have already been bitten, whether you just want something to keep at home for First Aid, or whether you are planning to travel abroad, speak to your pharmacist about bites and stings. There are a variety of products available. To prevent infection your pharmacist may recommend an antiseptic cream. To reduce itching, pain and swelling there are lotions, creams and sprays containing calamine, antihistamines and local anaesthetics, or oral antihistamines and pain killers. If travelling abroad, there are insect repellents that your pharmacist may recommend. Your pharmacist will also be able to advise you about precautions you may need to take to avoid catching malaria and other insect-borne diseases.
When to consult your doctor
Seek medical advice if a bite starts to swell up or does not go away after about 2 days, or if your baby develops a rash, experiences flu-like symptoms, or has swollen glands, as the bite may be infected.

If you think that your baby may have been bitten by a tick and develops a rash around the armpits, groin or thighs or has a flu-like illness, see your doctor as there is a risk that your baby may have Lyme disease and urgent treatment with an antibiotic will be necessary.

Also talk to your doctor if your baby has suffered a severe allergic reaction to an insect bite or sting and you are worried that it may happen again. Your doctor will prescribe adrenaline in the form of an injection that can be easily administered by you or a relative.

If planning a holiday abroad, make an appointment to see your doctor several weeks before you are due to travel. If necessary, your doctor will recommend an appropriate course of anti-malarial tablets and vaccines to protect against other diseases.

If your baby is unwell or develops a fever when you return from abroad, seek medical advice as she or he may have caught a disease when you were on holiday but the symptoms only appeared after your got back home.
Useful Tips
  • Prevention is better than cure; use an insect repellent
  • Choose an insect repellent carefully. Is it safe on babies and infants?
  • Remember their skin has a higher surface area than that of an adult and so more of the insect may be absorbed. If use of strong repellent is unavoidable, use sparingly and according to instructions
  • In the evenings, cover as much of your baby's or infant's body as possible with clothing
  • Seek advice regarding anti-malarial treatments when travelling abroad

Reviewed on 11/11/2009