Insect bites and stings

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]

Overview

Insect bites and stings occur when an insect is agitated and seeks to defend itself through its natural defense mechanisms, or when an insect seeks to feed off the bitten person.

Pathophysiology

Insects inject formic acid, which can cause an immediate skin reaction often resulting in redness and swelling in the injured area.

Diagnosis

History and Symptoms

The sting from fire ants, bees, wasps and hornets are usually painful, and may stimulate a dangerous allergic reaction called anaphylaxis for at risk patients. Wasps can bite and sting at the same time.

Differentiating insect bites from other diseases

Different rash-like conditions can be confused with insect bites and are thus included in its differential diagnosis. The various conditions that should be differentiated from insect bites include:[1][2][3][4][5][6][7]

Disease Features
Impetigo 
  • It commonly presents with pimple-like lesions surrounded by erythematous skin. Lesions are pustules, filled with pus, which then break down over 4-6 days and form a thick crust. It's often associated with insect bites, cuts, and other forms of trauma to the skin.
Insect bites
  • The insect injects formic acid, which can cause an immediate skin reaction often resulting in a rash and swelling in the injured area, often with formation of vesicles.
Kawasaki disease
Measles
Monkeypox
  • The presentation is similar to smallpox, although it is often a milder form, with fever, headache, myalgia, back pain, swollen lymph nodes, a general feeling of discomfort, and exhaustion. Within 1 to 3 days (sometimes longer) after the appearance of fever, the patient develops a papular rash, often first on the face. The lesions usually develop through several stages before crusting and falling off.
Rubella
Atypical measles
Coxsackievirus
  • The most commonly caused disease is the Coxsackie A disease, presenting as hand, foot and mouth disease. It may be asymptomatic or cause mild symptoms, or it may produce fever and painful blisters in the mouth (herpangina), on the palms and fingers of the hand, or on the soles of the feet. There can also be blisters in the throat or above the tonsils. Adults can also be affected. The rash, which can appear several days after high temperature and painful sore throat, can be itchy and painful, especially on the hands/fingers and bottom of feet.
Acne
Syphilis It commonly presents with gneralized systemic symptoms such as malaise, fatigue, headache and fever. Skin eruptions may be subtle and asymptomatic It is classically described as:
Molluscum contagiosum
  • The lesions are commonly flesh-colored, dome-shaped, and pearly in appearance. They are often 1-5 millimeters in diameter, with a dimpled center. Generally not painful, but they may itch or become irritated. Picking or scratching the lesions may lead to further infection or scarring. In about 10% of the cases, eczema develops around the lesions. They may occasionally be complicated by secondary bacterial infections.
Mononucleosis
Toxic erythema
  • It is a common rash in infants, with clustered and vesicular appearance.
Rat-bite fever
  • It commonly presents with fever, chills, open sore at the site of the bite and rash, which may show red or purple plaques.
Parvovirus B19
  • The rash of fifth disease is typically described as "slapped cheeks," with erythema across the cheeks and sparing the nasolabial folds, forehead, and mouth.
Cytomegalovirus
Scarlet fever
Rocky Mountain spotted fever
Stevens-Johnson syndrome
  • The symptoms may include fever, sore throat and fatigue. Commonly presents ulcers and other lesions in the mucous membranes, almost always in the mouth and lips but also in the genital and anal regions. Those in the mouth are usually extremely painful and reduce the patient's ability to eat or drink. Conjunctivitis of the eyes occurs in about 30% of children. A rash of round lesions about an inch across, may arise on the face, trunk, arms and legs, and soles of the feet, but usually not on the scalp.
Varicella-zoster virus
  • It commonly starts as a painful rash on one side of the face or body. The rash forms blisters that typically scab over in 7-10 days and clears up within 2-4 weeks.
Chickenpox
  • It commonly starts with conjunctival and catarrhal symptoms and then characteristic spots appearing in two or three waves, mainly on the body and head, rather than the hands, becoming itchy raw pox (small open sores which heal mostly without scarring). Touching the fluid from a chickenpox blister can also spread the disease.
Meningococcemia
Rickettsial pox
Meningitis

Treatment

Medical Therapy

Stingers in the skin should be removed by scraping it away with a fingernail or credit card edge. Baking soda paste should then be applied for 20 minutes to neutralize the formic acid. Bites from mosquitoes, fleas and mites are more likely to cause itching than pain.

Related Chapters

References

  1. Hartman-Adams H, Banvard C, Juckett G (2014). "Impetigo: diagnosis and treatment". Am Fam Physician. 90 (4): 229–35. PMID 25250996.
  2. Mehta N, Chen KK, Kroumpouzos G (2016). "Skin disease in pregnancy: The approach of the obstetric medicine physician". Clin Dermatol. 34 (3): 320–6. doi:10.1016/j.clindermatol.2016.02.003. PMID 27265069.
  3. Moore, Zack S; Seward, Jane F; Lane, J Michael (2006). "Smallpox". The Lancet. 367 (9508): 425–435. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(06)68143-9. ISSN 0140-6736.
  4. Ibrahim F, Khan T, Pujalte GG (2015). "Bacterial Skin Infections". Prim Care. 42 (4): 485–99. doi:10.1016/j.pop.2015.08.001. PMID 26612370.
  5. Ramoni S, Boneschi V, Cusini M (2016). "Syphilis as "the great imitator": a case of impetiginoid syphiloderm". Int J Dermatol. 55 (3): e162–3. doi:10.1111/ijd.13072. PMID 26566601.
  6. Kimura U, Yokoyama K, Hiruma M, Kano R, Takamori K, Suga Y (2015). "Tinea faciei caused by Trichophyton mentagrophytes (molecular type Arthroderma benhamiae ) mimics impetigo : a case report and literature review of cases in Japan". Med Mycol J. 56 (1): E1–5. doi:10.3314/mmj.56.E1. PMID 25855021.
  7. CEDEF (2012). "[Item 87--Mucocutaneous bacterial infections]". Ann Dermatol Venereol. 139 (11 Suppl): A32–9. doi:10.1016/j.annder.2012.01.002. PMID 23176858.

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