Prevention - Insect bites and stings

There are simple precautions you can take to reduce your risk of being bitten or stung by insects.

It's important to follow this advice if you've had a bad reaction to an insect bite or sting in the past.

Preventing insect bites and stings:

  • Remain calm and move away slowly if you encounter wasps, hornets or bees. Don't wave your arms around or swat at them.
  • Avoid over-exposed skin if you're outside when insects are particularly active. Cover your skin by wearing long sleeves and trousers.
  • Wear shoes when outdoors.
  • Apply insect repellent to exposed skin. Repellents that contain 50% DEET (diethyltoluamide) are most effective.
  • Avoid using products with strong perfumes, such as soaps, shampoos and deodorants. These can attract insects.
  • Be careful around flowers, rubbish, and in outdoor areas where food is served.
  • Never disturb insect nests. If a nest is in your house or garden, arrange to have it removed.
  • Avoid camping near water, such as ponds and swamps. Mosquitoes and horseflies are found near water.
  • Keep food and drink covered, particularly sweet things, when eating or drinking outside. Wasps or bees can also get into open drink bottles or cans you're drinking from.
  • Keep doors and windows closed or put thin netting over them to stop insects getting inside. Keep the windows of your car closed to stop insects getting inside.

Avoiding tick bites

Ticks are small spider-like creatures. They are mainly found in woodland and mountain areas. They attach to your skin, suck your blood and can cause Lyme disease in some cases.

You can reduce your risk of a tick bite if you:

  • keep to footpaths and avoid long grass when out walking
  • wear appropriate clothing in tick-infested areas
  • wear light-coloured fabrics that may help you spot a tick on your clothes
  • use insect repellent on exposed skin
  • inspect your skin for ticks, particularly at the end of the day, including your head, neck and skin folds
  • check your children's head and neck areas, including their scalp
  • make sure ticks are not brought home on your clothes
  • check your pets to ensure they don't bring ticks into your home in their fur

It's important to remove any ticks you find as soon as possible.

Extra precautions when travelling abroad

The risk of becoming seriously ill from an insect bite or sting in Ireland is small. But in some parts of the world insects can carry serious diseases such as malaria and you need to be extra careful.

It can help to:

  • find out what the risks are where you intend to travel
  • check if you need any vaccinations before travelling. Vaccines can prevent some illnesses spread by insects, such as yellow fever
  • speak to your GP about any extra precautions and medication you might need to take. For example, you may be told to take antimalarial tablets to avoid malaria

Read more about travel illnesses and vaccinations

Insect infestations

If you've been bitten by fleas, mites or bedbugs, you may have an infestation in your home. Try to find the source of the infestation before taking steps to get rid of it.

Signs of an infestation

The following are signs of an infestation:

  • fleas or flea poo in your animal's fur or bedding
  • crusting on your dog's fur is a sign of fleas
  • excessive scratching and grooming are a sign of fleas in cats
  • dandruff on your cat or dog is a sign of mites
  • spots of blood on your bed sheets are a sign of bedbugs
  • an unpleasant almond smell is a sign of bedbugs

Speak to your vet if you're unsure if your pet has fleas or mites.

Eliminating an infestation

Once you've identified the cause of the infestation, you'll need to get rid of it.

For flea infestations, treat the animal and its bedding with an insecticide. Vacuum your carpets and soft furnishings.

For mite infestations, you should get advice from your vet. This is because you will need a more aggressive treatment for mites.

For bedbug infestations, you will need to treat your home with an insecticide from a pest control company.

Read more about insect bites and prevention

Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE

Page last reviewed: 25 March 2021
Next review due: 25 March 2024

This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.