What are mosquito bites?
Mosquito bites are small, raised bumps on the skin that come from a female mosquito feeding on human blood.
Mosquitoes are small, flying insects. They have six legs and long mouthparts – used to feed on blood and nectar. Only female mosquitoes feed off of blood. There are three different types of mosquitoes that exist in various parts of the world: Aedes, Culex and Anopheles.
Often, mosquito bites do not cause any lasting harm. They cause mild annoyance and irritation for a short period of time. However, mosquitoes are considered very dangerous because they spread diseases that can be fatal.
Where are mosquitoes found?
Mosquitoes are often found near water. They lay their eggs in shallow, stagnant water. The eggs are usually found in marshes, ponds, lakes, children’s pools, the inside of tires, birdbaths, and other containers with shallow water.
Why do mosquitoes bite?
Mosquitoes bite and suck blood for reproduction. Though male mosquitoes only eat flower nectar, female mosquitoes eat both flower nectar and blood. The females need the protein in blood to develop eggs.
How do mosquitoes spread disease?
Mosquitoes spread disease through their bite. Mosquitoes are vectors (living things that carry diseases between animals and humans). Vectors often carry infections through blood. Many of the creatures classified as vectors are bloodsuckers. Other vectors include ticks, fleas, and sandflies. When a mosquito bites, it not only sucks blood but secretes saliva. This saliva enters your blood. There is an exchange of fluids between the mosquito and your bloodstream. The mosquito becomes infected when it feeds off a person or animal with the disease. It then passes the infection on when it bites. Mosquitoes often feed in a method called sip feeding. This means that the mosquito does not just suck all of the blood it needs from one source – it takes multiple meals from multiple sources. Unfortunately, this exposes more people to infection.
What types of diseases can be spread by mosquito bites?
- Chikungunya: Found in Africa, North and South America, Asia, Europe and the Indian subcontinent, chikungunya is a virus transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito. Symptoms of this virus include fever, joint and muscle pain, headache, nausea, tiredness and a rash.
- Zika: Found in Africa, North and South America, Asia and the Pacific region, Zika is a virus transmitted by the Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquito. Once a person is infected, the virus can be transmitted from person to person through sex. Zika can also impact an unborn child if the mother is infected while pregnant. Symptoms of Zika include a mild fever, headache, joint and muscle pain, a skin rash, and irritated eyes.
- Dengue: Found in Africa, North and South America, Asia, and Europe, dengue is a virus transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito. The symptoms of dengue are similar to the flu. Other symptoms include a fever, headache, joint and muscle pain, and nausea.
- West Nile virus: Found in Africa, North America, West Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, West Nile virus is transmitted by the Culex mosquito. West Nile virus can be fatal. Symptoms of the most severe version of the virus can include headache, fever, a stiff neck, confusion, coma, convulsions, and weakness of the muscles.
- Malaria: Found in Sub-Saharan Africa, malaria is transmitted by the anopheles mosquito. Symptoms of malaria can include fever, headache, and vomiting. Malaria can be fatal.
- Yellow fever: Found in Africa and Latin America, yellow fever is transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito. Symptoms of yellow fever can include fever, headache, muscle and back pain, lack of appetite, and vomiting. Yellow fever can be fatal.
Who is at risk of being bitten by mosquitoes?
Anyone can be bitten by a mosquito. However, there are some factors that might prompt mosquito bites. These include:
- Wearing dark-colored clothing
- Wearing perfume
- Blood type
- Body temperature
- Visiting a region with active mosquito-transmitted diseases
- Spending time near stagnant water
Symptoms and Causes
What causes a mosquito bite?
Mosquito bites are caused by the bite of a female mosquito. A female mosquito doesn’t necessarily bite you, but instead sucks blood as a part of their diet. The skin around this area is irritated and a circular bump appears on the skin.
What are the symptoms of a mosquito bite?
The symptoms of a mosquito bite can vary. If the mosquito was infected by a disease or if an allergic reaction occurs, the symptoms could be more severe.
The common symptoms include:
- Itchy and irritated skin
- A raised, circular bump on the skin where the mosquito bite occurred
More severe symptoms can include:
- An allergic reaction (hives, swollen throat, faintness, and wheezing)
- Infection of a disease carried by a mosquito (fever, headache, body aches, rashes, nausea, eye irritation, and tiredness can accompany various diseases)
Management and Treatment
How are mosquito bites treated?
Mosquito bites typically do not need treatment. Topical anti-itch creams can be applied to lessen itchy skin and discomfort. However, if more severe symptoms (allergic reaction, fever, headache, body aches) appear after a bite, see your healthcare provider. Also, see a healthcare provider if you experience symptoms and have recently visited a place where mosquito-spread infections are common. Treatment will vary depending on the type and severity of the infection.
How do I prevent mosquito bites?
Mosquito bites can be prevented in several ways. These include:
- Eliminating any standing water
- Not travelling to an infected area
- Wearing a bug spray registered with the EPA (typically containing DEET)
- Wearing long pants and long sleeves
- Utilizing screens over windows and doors
- Staying indoors during the highest point of mosquito activity (dusk and dawn)
- Treating clothing, tents, and net coverings with chemicals that repel mosquitoes
- Sleeping under protective netting
When visiting an area with an active mosquito-carried disease, it is important to follow safety guidelines. It can be dangerous to travel to areas with active mosquito-carried diseases when pregnant. Transmission of the Zika virus to a pregnant woman can impact the fetus (possibly causing birth defects). The virus can also spread through sexual contact. It is important to protect yourself and your partner if you have travelled to a region with Zika.
When should I see a doctor?
You should see a doctor if you experience an allergic reaction to a mosquito bite or develop symptoms of a disease carried by mosquitoes. If you have visited a region with active mosquito-transmitted diseases and develop symptoms, see your doctor.
If you are planning a trip outside of the country, consult the CDC for information on Zika transmission in that region.