Posted: Jul 03, 2014 10:00 AM
We have legitimate reasons to be afraid of bugs. Some of them are really dangerous. Be on the lookout for pests that can sting, bite and burrow their way into your skin to cause allergic reactions, infections or even death.
Photo credit: Jonathan Austin Daniels / iStock / 360 / Getty Images


The annoying mosquito is on a mission to make your summer miserable. It buzzes in your ear, bites and carries nasty stuff like West Nile and dengue fever viruses. The little nuisances are drawn to standing water, so eliminate those sources of attraction. Wear insect repellent or dress in long sleeves and pants to protect yourself from those really itchy bites. If you do get bitten, apply an antihistamine to the area and avoid scratching (which can lead to infection).


It's somewhat comforting to know that not all scorpions are poisonous... but let's not forget that those that are poisonous can kill. Found mostly in warm, dry Southwestern states, scorpions sting with a vengeance. You'll know when it strikes: The resulting symptoms include pain and swelling, sweating, vomiting and blurred vision. Seek immediate medical assistance.


Scabies are tiny mites that burrow into the skin... and stay there. They're highly contagious and can be spread through skin-to-skin contact as well as shared clothes and linens. The grossest part about scabies? You might not know they're there until weeks after they've infested your skin.

The infestation will be obvious when itchy sores appear on your fingers, wrists, elbows, buttocks and/or genitals. Ew. These bad boys won't go away on their own — you'll need an oral or topical prescription to get rid of them, so make an appointment to see your doctor stat. In the meantime, launder all of your towels, bedding and clothes with hot water and avoid physical contact with others.


Some bees are more dangerous than others because they can sting over and over again without losing their stinger. Wasps, hornets and yellow jackets, in particular, can cause serious reactions, particularly in people who are allergic to bee stings.

If you are allergic and are stung, seek immediate medical attention. Use your EpiPen, if possible, or hurry to the ER. If you're not allergic, you'll still suffer the pain of a bee sting. Remove the stinger, clean and apply ice to the area and relieve the discomfort with an OTC pain reliever.


We do our best to protect our pets from ticks, but are we doing everything we can to keep ourselves safe as well? There are few things as unnerving as the idea of a bug digging its way into our skin. The teeny-tiny tick attaches itself to you as you brush past grass and plants, buries its head into your skin (particularly in warm areas like the groin and armpits) and bloats itself by feasting on your blood.

Most tick bites are not serious, but there is always the possibility that the one that latches on to you is carrying Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Cover up when you're outdoors — tuck your pants into your socks and wear long sleeves — and make a habit of checking your entire body for ticks after every outing. If you do find a tick, it's important to remove it properly.

Black widow spiders

The venomous black widow typically hangs out among wood piles and tree stumps. The shiny black arachnid measures about one-and-a-half inches long and boasts a trademark hourglass shape on its abdomen. The telltale marking can be red, orange or even yellow.

When the black widow strikes, you may or may not feel the pain of her bite. She'll leave behind two vampire-like fang marks that can cause redness and a bump. The poison takes effect very quickly, and you may experience nausea and vomiting, muscle cramps, seizures and spiking blood pressure. Seek medical help immediately and, if possible, bring along the guilty spider. Medical staff can confirm the identity of the black widow and issue the appropriate anti-venom.

Brown recluse spiders

The brown recluse spider is native to Midwestern and Southeastern states and is rarely found outside these areas. True to its name, the brown recluse hides in the dark corners of warm and dry environments such as barns, attics, woodpiles, old tires and (yikes) even closets. Its body, which features a violin-shaped marking, is typically a lighter shade of brown than its one-inch legs.

The brown recluse won't come looking for you, but it will most definitely let you know when you've invaded its territory. The venomous bite of this dangerous spider can cause nasty wounds and infection. Seek medical attention from your doctor (or the ER, if necessary) and bring the spider along for proper diagnosis of your bite.


The tiny, wingless flea is a bloodthirsty problem... for dogs, cats and people. They make themselves right at home on their living host and enjoy a continuous supply of succulent blood. And just like your dog, you'll feel the urge to scratch, scratch, scratch — but please don't, unless you want to risk infection.

Prevention is the best medicine, but if fleas do invade, you'll have to treat your pets and your home to eliminate the problem. Afterward, remember to vacuum regularly, use insecticides where necessary and keep the animals off of the upholstered furniture and out of your bed.


Another nasty member of the arachnid family is the chigger, which is the larvae of the trombiculid mite. Unlike scabies and ticks, the chigger doesn't invade the skin; rather, it inserts its miniscule feeding tube into your tender flesh. It doesn't hurt, but the lesions that result can be extremely itchy and uncomfortable and last for days. The chigger eventually falls off, and the lesions can be treated with OTC products, but keep an eye out for long-lasting lesions and/or spreading lesions.

Fire ants

Keep an eye out for anthills. The red and black fire ant lives in small mounding hills that can be difficult to detect. Fire ants are protective of their environment, and they will retaliate if you disturb them. The fire ant bites you with its mouth but injects a venomous sting from its belly, and you're left with burning, itching red lesions and white pustules that resemble pimples. Apply ice and take a pain reliever to alleviate the discomfort of a few bites but, if you've received a large number of stings, seek emergency care to treat potentially life-threatening reactions.

Puss caterpillars

It's a mere one-inch long and the most poisonous caterpillar in the nation. Living among shade trees in the Southern states, the hairy puss caterpillar (don't you just love that name?) wears its poison in hollow spines amid its fur. When it stings, you'll know it: The poison causes immediate pain and subsequent rash, fever, vomiting and muscle cramps. Try using tape to remove the spines from your skin and follow-up with your doctor.


Technically, you probably will not suffer a cockroach bite in your lifetime unless the infestation becomes greater than your home's food supply. Cockroaches are quick, ugly insects that carry diseases like salmonella and can trigger asthma and allergic reactions. Cockroaches are particularly difficult to get rid of in warm climates, but they are a present problem just about everywhere. Stop up holes and repair cracks in your home's walls and floors and, in case you needed a compelling reason, keep your kitchen clean and crumb-free.


They're not your typical housefly... they're bigger and meaner. Deerflies, with telltale patterned wings, live in damp areas such as wetlands and forests, and they bite. Some bites spread infectious bacterial diseases (have you ever heard of Tularemia?) that require medical attention. Use insect repellent and wear protective clothing to keep these critters away from your vulnerable skin.


The housefly is the exception on this list: It won't bite, but it will spread revolting (and harmful) germs. One annoying little bugger can carry more than 1 million bacteria on its disgusting body — bacteria that can contaminate your food and spread intestinal infections. Flies are drawn to food and garbage, so keep trash containers covered and install screens in your windows to keep the germy bugs at bay.


They're called "head lice" for a reason: They like to invade the hair via shared combs, brushes and hats. The tiny, almost clear-colored lice quickly lay eggs (aka nits) on the hair (and those nasty nits stick like glue to the shaft). These hardy little guys cause extreme itchiness, and the resultant scratching can lead to infection (and, in rare cases, hair loss).

Shampoo and water alone will not rid your scalp of the infestation. You'll need an OTC cream or lotion to kill these pests, and you'll want to do whatever you can to contain the problem before it spreads to the rest of the family. Wash combs, clothing and bedding in hot water, and seal up favorite pillows and stuffed animals in plastic garbage bags for a couple of weeks. Frequently check everyone in the household to determine if additional treatments are necessary.


These tiny little bugs love to hide in bedding, and they really get around. Bedbugs are notoriously found in hotels and apartment complexes and make their way to new places via clothing, luggage, moving boxes and even pets. You won't die from bedbugs, but you'll be left with itchy red bites on your skin (along with the realization that, well, you have bedbugs). Avoid scratching and treat bites with anti-itch lotion or cream. See your doctor if you develop an allergic reaction. (Getting rid of the infestation on your own is difficult, but possible with tips from Texas A&M's Agrilife Extension.)

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