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How To Tell If A Bug Bite Is Infected, According To Experts

by Cat Bowen
Originally Published: 

'Tis the season to make sure you have plenty of Band-Aids, hydrogen peroxide, and anti-itch cream in your cabinet. Parents already know that the summer is fraught with potential hazards as children spend all their time outside, and bug bites are one of the most common. But beyond getting a little itchy, what are the signs a bug bite is infected, and when should parents worry?

Having had a few awful infected insect bites in my life, I can tell you it's not a pleasant experience. Dermatologist Dr. Susan Bard of Vive Dermatology tells Romper, "Increased and spreading redness, warmth, and pain, as well as the presence of pus are all signs that a bite has gotten infected." To put it simply, it gets red, it itches and burns at the same time, and the redness grows. Kids' nails are dirty, and they can't resist scratching those itchy bug bites, opening the skin and providing a means for germs to invade, which can lead to bacterial infections.

And there are more signs parents should be looking out for to tell if the infection is progressing, says John Shaff, PA-C, DFAAPA of Stockton Dermatology. These signs can include a long red line shooting out from the bug bite itself, fever, chills, and swollen lymph nodes or glands. These could be the signs of a serious infection — typically strep streptococcus, or staph, staphylococcus, according to The Cleveland Clinic — and will need to be seen by a pediatrician right away. When bug bites become infected and develop into cellulitis, it can become dangerous.

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Pediatrician Dr. Leann Poston of Ikon Health has a handy way to check up on your family's bug bites. "Draw a circle with a pen around the areas of redness so you can see if it enlarges over time. If it is infected, it will need to be treated with antibiotics." The trick is that from the time your child gets the bite, you need to be looking out for signs of infection, and encouraging them to avoid scratching it if at all possible. Keep the bite covered. Ice packs can help the littlest kids, and for children over 2, calamine lotion might be your best bet to keep them from scratching and avoiding infection.

However, the best thing you can do is try to prevent the bites to begin with by staying indoors at dawn and dusk, avoiding areas near standing water, using insect repellent if appropriate, and covering up exposed skin. Otherwise, just keep an eye on the bites, and monitor your child's behavior.

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