Itchy Bites: Canary in the Coalmine? Why It's Not Only About Treating the Itch
It's started to RAIN in Thailand, and with the monsoon rains come not only mosquitoes but all sorts of ants, beetles, bugs and bitey critters. As a producer of commercial natural products, I've been busy this week (a) making Bug Bite Balm and (b) fielding all the usual bug bitey questions.
Most people remain perplexed about why bites itch, so let's have a flash review.
"When a mosquito bite breaks the skin, a person’s body recognizes the mosquito’s saliva as a foreign substance. This causes an immune system response, which aims to flush out the intruder. The swelling around the bite is caused by histamine, which is produced by the immune system. Histamine increases blood flow and white blood cell count around the affected area, which causes inflammation or swelling". Source
So a small, and quickly relieved swelling is part of your body's immune and healing response. Best ignored and left alone.
When some people get HUGE welty, swollen, insanely itchy bites, they should be celebrating. Because their bodies have just told them something really, really important: that they are deficient in Vitamin C.
Vitamin C is a natural antihistamine, which means it lowers histamine levels and mitigates allergic reactions and symptoms. It's also not stored in the body, so you may have enough Vitamin C at 10am but be deficient by 7pm, depending on your day and your diet. The answer? More Vitamin C Rich foods like moringa, raw tomato, fresh capsicum (bell pepper) citrus and fresh berries. If you regularly react to mosquito bites which huge itchy welts, you have been visited by a Natural Medicine angel suggesting you improve your diet.
So, if (like me this week) you are detoxing and consuming LOTS of fresh Vitamin C and you get bit and nothing itches or swells, should you still treat the bites? And I would answer - YES. Unequivocally.
The mosquito saliva contains an anti-coagulant, which keeps the wound from sealing. Because mosquitoes will feed on multiple people or animals, they can transmit blood parasites from one to another. Cleaning the bites is important, as is encouraging them to close quickly to prevent infection.
Which brings us to the real point. Mosquitoes nearly always target lower legs and feet - very common to see tourists go swimming with elephants, diving, wandering at acro yoga in the park barefoot etc. The biggest risk in Thailand (and other tropical countries) is Leptospirosis. Politely translated from the Thai, it means "rats piss disease". 🤣 A blood borne bacterial infection, very-very often transmitted through unclean, unhealed mosquito bites. I personally know three people who have had it - one has loooog term health issues from it still, one got a serious brain infection and was hospitalized for several weeks and nearly died, and the third one "only" spent 5 days in ICU and nearly lost his kidney.
There are NO AWARDS for gritting your teeth and refusing Bug Bite treatment; in fact, it's really dumb. "I'll tough it out" is next level stupid.
"From 2003 to 2012, there were 41,089 cases of leptospirosis reported to Bureau of Epidemiology, Ministry of Public Health, Thailand. Average annual incidence rate was 6.6 per 100,000 population. Northeastern region showed the highest incidence (12.5 per 100,000 population). There were 606 deaths, with case fatality rate 1.5%."Source
That's around 4,000 cases a year and an average of about 61 deaths every year.
The blood parasite levels are common.
"A total of 6,231 Thais provided the data for analysis. Evidence of parasitic infections was found in 557 (8.94%) cases".Source
If you live or travel in Asia, you will see convenience store everywhere sell Betadine - an iodine solution commonly dabbed on bites. It cleans, but that's about all.
As suggested above, if you have itchy bites or a histamine reaction, get some fresh Vitamin C into you IMMEDIATELY.
What else can you do?
- One of the quickest ways to dissipate the itch from a mosquito bite is to apply direct heat. Yup - it works!;
- Aloe Vera gel - pure & straight from the plant;
- Basil essential oil helps A LOT and is antibacterial;
- High quality natural honey is also used to reduce swelling and itchiness, although of itself may attract more bitey ants;
- Menthol and peppermint essential oil FEEL cooling and reduce swelling;
- In an extreme emergency, commercial toothpaste brings rapid relief from itching and the desire to scratch;
- ginger essential oil helps bring rapid relief from itching and swelling;
- tea tree and lavender oils also bring substantial relief;
- a paste of baking soda and water can help.
What goes in our Pure Thai Natural Bug Bite Balm ? Natural beeswax to help seal and protect the open wound, premium rice bran & virgin coconut oils, basil essential oil, ginger essential oil, peppermint essential oil and menthol.
I would encourage you to listen and understand the signals your body is giving you. Please just don't foolishly spend your life wandering around saying "mosquitoes love me." Preventing bites is the best choice. But if you DO get bitten, protect yourself after bites from parasites and infections, which are becoming more prevalent, just as mosquitoes are no longer a tropical problem only.
Be smart. Be Safe.