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Entomology: Publications
The University of Georgia College of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences Cooperative Extension Service

Protect Yourself Against Bites and Stings & Use Repellents Safely

Paul Guillebeau, IPM/Pesticide Coordinator
Donna F. Anderson, County Extension Agent
UGA Cooperative Extension Service
In cooperation with the Georgia Poison Control Center (Gaylord Lopez, Director)


Take immediate action.  If the stinger remains, remove it by scraping with a credit card or thumbnail.  Squeezing the stinger may force more venom into the skin. Some commercial products, such as StingEze®, are very effective if applied quickly after the sting occurs. 
A paste of meat tenderizer and water may also provide relief. 
Pain and swelling are normal reactions to stings.  Apply ice to relieve pain and swelling.
More serious symptoms, such as shortness of breath, nausea, or
difficulty swallowing require immediate medical attention
For emergencies call the
Georgia Poison Control Center at 1-800-282-5846 or (404) 616-9000

Bites from insects, ticks, and other arthropods are always annoying.  They may also expose you to diseases including Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and encephalitis.  Many people use repellents to protect themselves.  If used properly, repellents are an effective and safe way to avoid bites from insects and other pests.  Keep in mind that repellents are pesticides, and irresponsible use will expose you and your family to unnecessary risks.  The risks are greatest for infants and toddlers because of their lower weight and greater tendency to place hands/objects in their mouths.  

Because of health concerns related to pesticides, we recommend Integrated Pest Management or IPM to protect your family from bites and stings.  IPM uses a variety of tactics to control pests and minimize the risks from pesticides.  Pesticides are often part of IPM, but pesticides are used only when they are needed.  Follow the guidelines in this bulletin for personal IPM.  You will learn how to avoid pests using fewer pesticides and how to use repellents safely.


Use personal IPM to protect yourself from three types of pests that bother humans.

1.                  Annoyance Insects.  These pests do not bite or sting, but their presence can be very annoying.  This category includes houseflies, gnats, midges, and other insects.

2.                  Blood Feeders.  These arthropods need blood to survive, so they will bite you even if you do not bother them.  This group includes mosquitoes, horseflies, ticks, and others.

3.                  Defenders. Wasps, bees, spiders, and fire ants are examples of arthropods that usually will not attack unless they are threatened.  However, these pests may consider you a threat if you swat at them, trap them against your body or clothing, or venture too close to their nest.  Wasps, bees, and fire ants are often very aggressive around their nest. Soft drinks and foods may attract wasps, bees, and ants.


Annoyance insects & blood feeders


  • Use mosquito netting over playpens or strollers to protect small children from bites.
  • Swatting annoying or blood-feeding insects can be very effective if the pests are not numerous.
  • Eliminate standing water near your home.  Change the water in birdbaths frequently.  Check gutters, flowerpot holders, old tires, and toys for standing water; mosquitoes can breed in small amounts of water.
  • A fan will repel some small flying insects.
  • Use citronella candles.
  • Wear long sleeved shirts and pants that fit snugly around the wrists and ankles.
  • Avoid the outdoors during peak biting insect activity hours.  Some biting insects are only active during certain parts of the day.
  • Some alternative products contain citronella or other plant extracts instead of DEET or permethrin.  These products may provide protection for short periods of time.
  • Use DEET or permethrin products, if necessary, to provide additional protection against these pests.


  • Teach children to stay away from dangerous insects and spiders and their nests/webs.  Even a small child can learn to recognize a black widow, bees/wasps, or fire ant mounds. 
  • Avoid bee and wasp nests.  Insects flying from a hole in the ground or a tree often indicate a bee or wasp nest.
  • Do not panic or swat bees or wasps.
  • Keep sweet foods away from children's outdoor play areas. 
  • Move garbage cans away from outdoor play areas and use cans with tight fitting lids.
  • Rinse drink cans before recycling.
  • Wear shoes when you are outside.
  • During summer cookouts, keep food in containers and eat inside screened areas.
  • Yellow jackets or bees are attracted to soft drinks and beer. The insects will often enter open containers.  Cover the containers when you are not drinking or use a drinking straw.
  • Avoid sweet foods during summer outdoor picnics unless water is available to rinse off sticky hands and faces.
  • Do not swat or crush yellow jackets.  It will encourage others to attack.
  • Commercial yellow jacket traps can greatly reduce yellow jackets at a cookout.
  • Avoid perfumes or other scented personal items if you plan to spend time outdoors; the scents often attract insects.
  • Look before you handle or sit on wet areas or objects (like towels).  Bees and wasps often drink from these sources.
  • Always carry first aid for stings.
  • DEET, permethrin, and other repellents will not protect you against aggressive stinging insects like hornets or bees.
  • Wasps may nest in any protected, undisturbed area.  Check for nests before you move items from storage or disturb shrubbery.

DEET and Permethrin

For most arthropod pests, DEET or permethrin products are the only materials that provide adequate protection.  Many products may contain the same active ingredient(s), however the concentrations vary considerably.  Every pesticide will have the active ingredient(s) and the concentration(s) listed on the pesticide label.  Compare the active ingredient(s) and the concentration(s) before you purchase any pesticide.

DEET is the abbreviation for diethlytoluamide, the active ingredient in many insect/tick repellents. Dozens of different products contain DEET as the active ingredient in strengths from less than 5% to near 100%. 

Permethrin is an active ingredient in a wide variety of pesticides.  Repellents containing permethrin are advertised primarily as protection against ticks, but the labels also indicate activity against mosquitoes and mites (e.g., chiggers).  Permethrin products sold for use on human clothing are formulated at a 0.5% concentration.

Risks from DEET/permethrin. DEET and permethrin are poisons, and both will go through human skin.  Wounds and skin conditions, such as acne, sunburn, or psoriasis increase the rate of absorption.  DEET and permethrin can irritate or injure the eye.  In rare cases, DEET has poisoned small children after repeated use or accidental ingestion.  Additionally, some individuals may be allergic to DEET or permethrin.  If you need to use DEET or permethrin products, follow these rules to minimize your risks.



  2. For older children, use DEET products that contain less than 10% DEET.  Adults can usually use higher percentage products, but 20-30% concentrations are reported to be nearly as effective as 90% DEET products.
  3. Apply DEET to clothing instead of skin whenever practical.
  4. Avoid frequent applications and saturation of skin or clothing.  DEET provides protection for at least one hour under most conditions.
  5. Wash DEET from skin with soap and water upon returning indoors.
  6. Immediately wash skin that comes in contact with any permethrin product.
  3. Do not apply DEET products directly to the face.  Spray the product on your hands and rub it on your face and neck.  Avoid contact with eyes, lips, or nostrils.
  4. Do not apply DEET products to scratches, open sores, or sunburned skin.
  5. Do not mix DEET products with lotions or other skin care products.  They may increase DEET absorption through the skin.
      These products are labeled for clothing application only.

The University of Georgia and Ft. Valley State College, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and counties of the state cooperating. The Cooperative Extension Service, University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences offers educational programs, assistance and materials to all people without regard to race, color, national origin, age, sex or disability. An equal opportunity/affirmative action organization committed to a diverse work force.

May 2001

Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, The University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating.

 Gale A. Buchanan, Dean and Director


University of Georgia (UGA) College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES)