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What you need to know about insect bites & vector-borne diseases

Breakspear Medical wants to raise awareness about the potential health risks associated with insect bites. While many encounters with insects result in minor irritation, some can lead to serious vector-borne diseases. If you’ve been bitten and experience unusual symptoms, don’t hesitate to seek medical attention. Our team is here to provide expert diagnosis and tailored treatment plans.

What You Need to Know

At one time or another, we’ve probably all been bitten or stung by insects. Bites or stings can cause symptoms ranging from skin irritation to life-threatening vector-borne diseases.

It is good to familiarise yourself with the most common bites:

  • Lice – there are 3 types of this parasitic insect that feed on humans.  Along with passing on bacterial disorders, infection from bites can lead to excessive picking at the site and secondary bacterial infections.
  • Mites – these little arachnids are related to spiders and scorpions and can cause a painful rash, causing severe itching and dermatitis.  There is risk of secondary infection if the bites are scratched open.  They are associated with 31 bacterial pathogens.
  • Ticks –  Once a tick has found a suitable place to feed, it uses its mouth-parts to cut through the host’s skin, inserts a feeding tube (which also serves as an anchor) into the wound and then feeds on blood until it is full. It has been published that ticks collectively transmit more varieties of disease than any other group of blood-feeding arthropods. Ticks are known to cause Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Lyme disease and monocytic ehrlichiosis.
  • Mosquitoes – When a mosquito bites a person, common reactions to the bite are itching and swelling. Common types of mosquito-borne diseases include malaria, dengue, West Nile virus, chikungunya, yellow fever and Zika.
  • Bedbugs – common bedbugs thrive in furniture or bedding used frequently by people. Some people have a reaction to the bites; they can be very itchy and there may be painful swelling.  Generally, bedbugs haven’t been connected with transmission of disease to humans, however, some vectors have been identified in laboratory tests.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), “Vector-borne diseases account for more than 17% of all infectious diseases, causing more than 700 000 deaths annually. They can be caused by either parasites, bacteria or viruses.”2

It isn’t the bug, it’s what they carry

Vector-borne diseases are human illnesses caused by parasites, viruses and bacteria that are transmitted by vectors. Around the world, mosquitoes, black flies, sand flies, ticks and other insects can carry various parasites and bacteria that can be harmful (and sometimes fatal) to humans and other animals.

Examples of vector-borne illnesses include:

  • Sleeping sickness (African trypanosomiasis) – caused by a one-celled parasite transmitted by the tsetse fly, which occurs in western, central and eastern Africa.
  • Malaria – a potentially fatal, mosquito-borne infectious disease of humans, which is widespread in tropical and subtropical countries.
  • West Nile Virus (WNV) – a viral infection spread by mosquitoes in Africa, Eastern Europe and West Asia with recent reports of occurrence in Canada.
  • Tick-borne encephalitis – transmitted through the bite of an infected tick of the Ixodes species. Primarily in deciduous forests in Europe, Siberia and the Far East.

While many vector-transmitted diseases tend to be in warmer climates, the UK and other northern countries also experience outbreaks of these diseases.

For example, occurrences of Lyme disease, which is a disease (spirochaete) transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected tick, have been recorded in increasing numbers across areas of the United States, Asia and Europe, including the UK.

For over 2 decades Breakspear Medical doctors have been actively looking for infectious agents such as borreliosis, Epstein-Barr virus, Parvovirus B19 and bacterial, rickettsial and parasitic organisms to find the cause of many illnesses.

Vector-borne disease treatments available

With each vector-borne disease, there are treatments available.  It is important for everyone to be aware of the symptoms of the various infections to which one may be exposed.  As well, when infection is suspected, it is important to seek medical help to test and treat the condition as soon as possible.

For example, people who have been bitten by ticks infected with Lyme disease (borreliosis) may experience discomfort immediately at the point of contact in a characteristic circular skin rash called erythema migrans.  However, other tick-infected people do not have any immediate indicators but may develop fever, headache, fatigue, pain in the muscles and joints and depression after the incubation period of about 1 to 2 weeks.

If left untreated or inadequately treated, patients maybe develop severe and chronic symptoms that affect other parts of the body, including the brain, nerves, eyes, joints, skin and occasionally cause heart conduction problems.

Although antibiotics are the primary treatment for Lyme disease, the treatment of chronic Lyme disease requires a specialised multifactoral approach.

How we approach bites, stings & concurrent symptoms

During consultation, a doctor at Breakspear Medical will narrow down the possibilities of the causes of a patient’s symptoms, using a variety of tests from accredited laboratories to assist with diagnosis.

In the case of Lyme disease, because there is a debate about the sensitivity of tests used to diagnose it, blood samples are sent to two different laboratories to look for the infection, to corroborate the clinical findings.

Regimes are tailored individually according to the patient’s requirements and investigations and may include prescriptions and nutritional supplements, including antibiotics, biofilm breakers, immune support and other interventions where appropriate.

Treatment is often also designed to strengthen the immune system in order to help the body to fight off the infections. This is particularly important for people who may have been ill for a long time and therefore may have become nutritionally depleted and can suffer from immune dysfunction.



  1. Accessed 26 June 2024.
  2. Accessed 26 June 2024.
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