5 Types of Fly Bites You Might Get This Summer—and How to Treat Them
Are fly bites dangerous?
Flies dive-bomb your face, they march across your food, and they can bite. Annoying? Sure. Painful? Sometimes. But are fly bites dangerous? The comforting answer: Rarely.
“Flies are not typically harmful in the United States,” says Rosmarie Kelly, PhD, a public health entomologist with the Georgia Department of Public Health in Atlanta.
Flies generally aren't responsible for passing on diseases, at least not in the U.S., although their bites can hurt and some people have more serious allergic reactions to their saliva.
Here are five common U.S. flies and what their bites can–and can’t–do to you.
Horse fly bites
Horse fly bites are usually harmless, though they can be painful. According to the National Pest Management Association, wearing light-colored clothing and insect repellant can help prevent bites from these unwanted visitors.
Sand fly bites
Sand flies are typically found in southern US states, including Florida, Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North and South Carolina.
Sand fly bites can cause small red bumps and blisters that may itch and swell. Antiseptic and soothing lotions will help ease itching and prevent infections from developing.
In rare cases, sand flies can transmit a parasitic disease called leishmaniasis, which can cause skin ulcers, shown above. These usually heal within a year, but they can leave scarring.
US troops in the Middle East often have trouble dealing with sand flies, says James Diaz, MD, professor and director of the environmental and occupational health sciences program at Louisiana State University School of Public Health.
Deer fly bites
Deer flies are common in the US, especially in the Southwest. These critters particularly like swamps, lakes, and other bodies of water. Like horse flies, they’re attracted to movement, carbon dioxide, and warmth.
Deer flies have the same razor-sharp mouths as horse flies and can inflict quite a bit of pain and often draw blood. Antihistamines, along with antiseptic and soothing lotions, are probably enough to tame their bites.
A few people have allergic reactions to deer fly saliva, which could lead to symptoms like hives or wheezing. Deer flies also occasionally transmit tularemia, or “rabbit fever,” a bacterial infection that is usually treated with antibiotics.
Black fly bites
Black flies, sometimes called buffalo gnats, are very common in the US. Although they bite, they don’t transmit diseases, at least not in America. They appear in the late spring and early summer, especially along creeks and rivers.
Black fly bites result in red bumps that itch and often swell. These bugs are especially fond of your head, face, and the back of your neck. Some people have severe allergic reactions to black fly bites, which need to be treated by a medical professional.
If one black fly takes a nibble, it can hurt. But if hordes swoop down and bite you, you can be severely injured.
Some people react to a fly bite with a collection of symptoms known as “black fly fever,” which can involve headache, nausea, fever, and swollen lymph nodes.
Biting midges or gnat bites
These pesky insects are a nuisance, particularly in hot and humid areas. Often you’ll feel the bite (they hurt) without ever seeing the culprit—hence their “no-see-ums” nickname. Biting midges tend to deliver their trademark burning sting at dusk and dawn.
Midge or gnat bites look a lot like mosquito bites: small, red, itchy lumps or sometimes a red welt or blister. The bugs don’t spread diseases to humans, though they can infect livestock.
Fly bite treatment
If a fly bites you (or you see a bite on your arm or torso and suspect it came from a fly), start with antiseptic and soothing lotions, such as Thursday Plantation Tea Antiseptic Cream ($10; amazon.com). Taking an oral antihistamine, like Benadryl ($12; amazon.com) or Zyrtec ($36; amazon.com), can help soothe itchiness. For preventative measures, give yourself full-body coverage with a standard insect repellent like Cutter Skinsations Insect Repellant Spray ($4; amazon.com) before you head outdoors this season.
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