Find out how to identify and treat flea bites along with the diseases you can catch
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Biting insects feed on humans and animals by piercing skin to tap into a blood vessel. They actively seek a food source by using their various senses such as heat, smell and sight to find a suitable host. Some insects make a quick feed and leave while others prefer to find hidden areas of the body to stay till they are gorged and can only drop off when they are swollen with blood.
Find out how to identify and treat flea bites along with the diseases you can catch
Learn all about mosquito bites from identifying and treating them to the diseases mosquitoes bites can cause
Bed Bugs are on the rise again. Find out how to identify and treat bites from bed bugs
Whichever way they find a host and feed, however, biting insects can cause itching, inflammation, painful welts and in addition can transmit many serious diseases that affect millions of people across the world.
Learn about the different types of lice, how to treat and identify lice bites as well as the diseases they spread
How can I prevent tick bites? All the information you need on preventing and treating tick bites along with how to remove them
Bites itch because your body reacts to the saliva injected by the insect while it is biting you.
Biting insects have a complex mouth structure that varies between species. It can include a needle-like part that pierces the skin and other parts that are serrated and saw through the flesh to find a blood vessel.
They also have a food canal to suck up blood and a canal that injects saliva containing anticoagulant and anaesthetic. The anticoagulant keeps the blood liquid to keep it flowing and the anaesthetic stops you from feeling the bite so you don’t disturb the feeding insect.
The body’s immune system recognises the foreign material injected into the bite and produces histamine as a defence mechanism. This causes localised inflammation and itching.
a — antennae
c — compound eye
lb — labium
lr — labrum
md — mandibles
mx — maxillae
hp — hypopharynx
Source: Wikimedia commons: Xavier Vázquez.
People’s reactions to bites can vary greatly depending on the sensitivity of their immune system and whether they have been bitten before.
It can take hours or days for itching or redness to occur after being bitten, making it difficult to tell what bit you. In this case you will need other identifying factors to tell the source of the bite.
Fleas are wingless insects that are about 3-4mm long when adult. They are very agile and especially good at jumping.
As a ratio of their size, fleas are one of the longest jumpers of any animal. They can quickly spread widely once inside a building.
There are several types of flea that affect humans, pets and animals and are common in the human environment. They tend to prefer a particular animal host, but will still bite to see if the host is suitable before dropping off.
Common animals that can bring fleas into contact with humans include:
See descriptions of the various species on the Flea Species page.
Flea bites look a lot like other insect bites, but there are, however, a few key characteristics which separate them apart.
How to identify flea bites:
How to treat flea bites:
Getting bitten by a flea can also lead to contracting some harmful diseases.
Diseases you can catch from fleas:
Find out more about insect borne diseases here
There are over 3,500 known species of mosquito worldwide and a large number of these transmit diseases that affect more than 700 million people each year, causing at least two million deaths.
Only the female mosquitoes need a blood meal, having the specialised mouth parts that can penetrate animal skin, though they can also feed on sweet plant juices.
Male mosquito mouth parts are adapted only to feed on nectar and plant juices and cannot penetrate skin. It is the females that transmit diseases to humans and animals.
The female mosquito finds a host by sensing carbon dioxide in breath, perspiration and body odours, and tends to feed in the evening and night time, though there are notable exceptions.
Mosquito bites are characterised by itchy red bumps on the skin, with varying degrees of swelling, depending on the person’s immune response.
How to prevent mosquito bites:
How to treat mosquito bites
Mosquito bites can be treated with some simple measures:
One of the main concerns around mosquito bites, is their ability to spread the following diseases:
Find more information on insect-borne diseases.
You are most likely to pick up bed bugs from a hotel, where they can crawl into luggage and clothing. They can also catch a ride in bedding and furniture and spread through buildings by crawling through holes in walls, such as for electrical wiring, or along pipe work.
Bed bugs tend to feed at night but will search for a host at any time if they are starved. They find a host through an array of sensors that can detect warmth, carbon dioxide and body odours.
Bed bugs feed for only 5-10 minutes until they become engorged with blood, if not disturbed and may spend less than 20 minutes on a host. After feeding, they return to their shelter.
How to spot bed bug bites
How to treat bed bug bites
Bed bugs do not carry diseases so the only treatment needed is to stop itching and rarely for inflammation. If the bites develop into very itchy bumps, general products available from a pharmacy to stop itching are suitable. For inflammation it is best to see a doctor who can prescribe the most suitable treatment. Many people do not react to bed bug bites so do not need any treatment.
How to prevent bed bug bites
If you are worried about bringing back bed bugs from your travels, then follow these steps to prevent bed bugs from entering your home and feeding upon you at night:
Worried about bed bugs in your hotel or dorm? Follow these steps to prevent them from biting your guests:
The term midge and gnat is a very general term for a wide range of flies, including the Sand fly and Black fly. Most are aquatic during the larval stage.
It is important to note that not all flies bite, some go about their day to day lives without the need to feast on humans. However there are a few fly species which rely on our blood to survive, these are:
How to treat fly bites
The bites of some flies such as horse flies can bleed. In this case a simple plaster applied after the bite has been washed would help. If the bleeding doesn’t stop on its own, you should see a doctor.
How to prevent fly bites
Arachnids are a separate Class from insects in the classification of the animal kingdom, distinguishable by their eight legs and two body sections: the abdomen and cepahlothorax.
The group is easily distinguished from insects, which have six legs, three body sections (head, thorax and abdomen) and one pair of antennae. They are both in the Arthropod phylum, however, which consists of animals having an exoskeleton.
The arachnids have many members that can be pests of humans: the ticks, mites, scorpions and spiders.
Out of an estimated 160,000 species of moth there is only one genus, Calyptra, that can bite animals to drink their blood.
There are around 19 species of the moth, which are commonly called vampire moths, but just one species is known to have the ability to pierce human skin: Calyptra thalictri.
Unlike mosquitoes, only the male moth is known to have the ability to drink blood.
There are few reports of the moth biting humans and the only known case of the moth drinking human blood was in a test by the Russian scientist Vladimir Kononenko in 1999.
This species is native to areas as disparate as Thailand, the Urals and southern Europe.
In 2007 several newspapers reported recordings in Finland and later in Sweden. It is not thought to pose any risk to humans.
There are around 900 species of tick, all of which are parasites that feed on the blood of mammals, birds and less commonly reptiles and amphibians.
Ticks inhabit areas with long grass or heavy vegetation. They can sense a host by detecting breath, body odours, body heat, moisture and vibrations through a sensory organ in the first pair of legs.
Ticks do not seek a host but lie in wait, climbing up grass or onto the edge of leaves and hold up their front pair of legs to wait for a host to pass and latch onto — a posture called ‘questing’. They then crawl around the host looking for their preferred site to feed from, such as soft skin.
A tick on a blade of grass with forelegs extended in the questing position.
Source: Wikimedia Commons: Mcvoorhis
How to prevent tick bites
In areas of known infestation you can take some measures to reduce the chance of tick infestation:
It is important to remove a tick properly so that you do not leave mouth parts behind in the skin, squeeze body fluid into the bite or cause it to regurgitate into the bite, which will increase the chance of infection.
How to remove ticks:
Ticks can carry a variety of viruses, bacteria and protozoa, including several at the same time, which can make diagnosis and treatment difficult.
Mites are are closely related to ticks. There are nearly 50,000 known species, mostly microscopic, occupying a very diverse range of habitats. Many are pests of plants and animals such as bees and birds, but very few affect humans.
The house dust mite does not feed directly on humans but on shed skin particles and pet dander. The shed skins and faeces can cause allergic reactions in some people, similar to hay fever, asthma and eczema.
The scabies mite, Sarcoptes scabiei, is a parasitic mite about 0.5mm long that burrows into the outer layer of skin to feed on skin cells. It lays 10-25 eggs that hatch and emerge from the skin after 3-4 days to travel to another part of the body and repeat the cycle.
The infection results in itching caused by the body’s reaction to secretions from the mites. This can take up to eight weeks to appear.
Scabies is highly contagious. People living in the same household are likely to become infected easily.
The most common treatments for scabies are the pesticides permethrin, malathion and lindane. However, these can have side effects and should be used with advice from a medical professional.
Rickettsialpox is caused by the bacteria Rickettsia akari, which can be carried by house-mouse mites. They will seek new hosts, including humans, when the mice die off naturally or as a result of pest control. Infection is transmitted by the bite of the mite.
Rickettsialpox is regarded as a mild disease that takes 2-3 weeks to recover from. The first symptom is a bump around the bite that appears about a week after the bite, which turns into black crusty scab.