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13th Jul 2013

The Sting in the Tail of Summer – How to Avoid Insect Injuries

Over 50 per cent of Irish adults have noticed a rise in biting and stinging insects over the last 12 months

Rebecca McKnight

If there is one downside to the summer weather, it has to be this; biting and stinging insects like mosquitoes, midges, wasps, bees, fleas and ants are dining upon us like never before.

A new survey of 200 Irish adults by Anthisan Cream has revealed that over 50 per cent have noticed a rise in biting and stinging insects over the last 12 months, with one in three (34 per cent) avoiding outdoor activities such as eating al fresco or playing with their children entirely as a result. One in eleven (9 per cent) have suffered from more than ten bites at one time, with 42 per cent admitting they have scratched a bite or sting so much that they have actually caused a scar.

The survey revealed that midges (35 per cent), wasps (15 per cent) and mosquitoes (13 per cent) were the biting and stinging insects more notably present and active than in previous years.

Dr James Logan from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said, “Some parts of Ireland may become warm enough to support mosquitoes, like the Asian Tiger Mosquito, that have the potential to spread diseases.  Meanwhile in Europe, the Asian Tiger Mosquito and other more troublesome mosquito species could rise in numbers with the warmer climate patterns.”

Midges like still, warm humid temperatures, and are hardy enough to survive cold spells. They thrive within inland mountainous areas, woods and forests, and beside rivers and streams. These culprits like to dine on everyone and anything they see. Only the pregnant midge bites as they require a feast a blood before they can lay their eggs.

Dr Logan continued, “People can have a variety of reactions to mosquito and midge bites, with small raised itchy bumps on the skin the most common. Symptoms can change over time as well, dependent on the number of bites a person has received at one time or in one specific area of skin. Reactions can include both immediate and delayed swelling, itching and inflammation around the bite area. As tempting as it seems at the time, avoid scratching as this will make the bite(s) more irritated. If you are in a known area for mosquitoes, or know that they have a taste for you, it is wise to have a suitable repellent and bite relief cream on hand.”

Although wasps, honeybees and bumblebees can all sting, it is wasp stings that are most common. A wasp can easily deliver multiple stings. Wasps insert their stings into the skin and then withdraw it afterwards, which can be very painful. Bumblebees rarely sting humans, and it is only the female ‘worker’ who will sting if bothered. Honeybees also only sting in self defense, but when it does sting it leaves behind a ball of venom, with its own muscle mechanism, which continues to pump the venom into the skin post sting.

Stings from wasps, honeybees and bumblebees are treated very similarly – the main difference being that bee stings should be removed before treatment, whereas wasps do not leave a sting behind. People stung by wasps can react very differently; with some hardly affected, whereas others suffer considerable pain and swelling.

Fleas come in many species, and are a common problem in homes, especially for those with dogs or cats. While they can transmit disease, it is very rare in Ireland. The main concern with fleas are their bites. The adult flea pierces the skin to feed on blood; however the larvae feeds on organic matter in carpets or bedding and can remain dormant for many months.

There are thousands of different species of ants in Ireland, and while they are often not considered as much of a sting risk, two of the most common ants in Ireland can bite on contact. The Black Garden Ant and Pharaoh Ant’s bite can leave some people suffering from allergic reactions. The Common Red Ant, also known as the European Fire Ant, does sting, injecting its venom below the skin. Reactions can be very serious in some; however it is usually just very uncomfortable. 

When you are bitten or stung the body’s immune system produces a chemical called histamine to help protect the cells from infection from foreign objects. The histamine causes inflammation and swelling of the skin as the blood vessels expand, which can also make it feel itchy. Using a treatment like Anthisan, which contains the active ingredient Mepyramine Maleate, (a topical antihistamine which stops the histamine affecting your body’s cells), works by blocking H1 receptor sites in the cell walls and so helps to reduce pain, swelling and irritation.


For more tips on how to treat and avoid wasp & bee stings, insect bites and nettle rash visit