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How can I avoid being bitten? Ask the Doc.

Byline: Dr James Briscoe

Q I ALWAYS get bitten or stung by insects on holiday much more than anyone else.

What's the best way to deal with bites and is there anything I can do to protect myself? Do I need to be careful about what I use to protect my baby?

JOAN, Worcester

A THE difference is in the nature of the bite or sting, Joan.

Venomous insects, such as wasps, hornets, bees or ants, attack as a defence mechanism, injecting painful, toxic venom through their stings.

Non-venomous insects, such as mosquitoes, sand flies, fleas or ticks, bite to feed on your blood.

Although local irritation and allergic reactions to the saliva and anticoagulants contained in non-venomous bites do occur, severe reactions such as anaphylactic shock happen only from venomous stings.

Quite why mosquitoes seem to bite some people but not others is not completely understood.

After a bite, because of the release of histamine as part of the skin's reaction to the bite, the skin becomes red, swollen and itchy and can be painful.

If necessary, use a painkilling cream or gel or an antihistamine to soothe the itch.

Look out for a rash or swelling that gets worse instead of better. If this happens, see a doctor.

Certainly call a doctor if you develop headache, dizziness, nausea or difficulty with breathing.

The occurrence of mosquito and other insect bites can be minimised by wearing longsleeved shirts, long trousers and hats to reduce exposed skin.

Tucking shirts into trousers and trousers into socks will increase protection.

Boots also decrease the risk of bites.

Repellents applied to clothing, shoes and tents, and mosquito nets will enhance protection.

During outdoor activities and at the end of the day, it is worth inspecting yourself and your clothing for ticks if you have been in undergrowth.

Prompt removal of ticks may also prevent infection.

Insect repellents are largely made up of chemicals in the form of sprays or repellent smoke.

One of the strongest repellents is DEET (diethyl-meta-toluamide). It is the most used insect repellent chemical worldwide.

It has proved effective at preventing bites and can remain effective for several hours.

However, it causes irritation to eyes, lips and other sensitive areas and has a strong "chemical" smell.

I suggest you seek advice before using products containing DEET on your baby.

Natural insect repellents are usually based on the essential oils of either citronella or specific varieties of eucalyptus.

They are non-sticky, environmentally friendly and safer on sensitive skins, and most can be used on children and babies.

If YOU have a question about health and wellbeing, write to: Ask the Doc, Sunday Mercury, Weaman Street, Birmingham B4 6AY, or e-mail
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Jul 29, 2007
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