Whether it’s a bite from a crawly critter or a cut to the arm or leg, our doctors explain what steps you can take to prevent infection

Cuts and Insect Bites

The skin is a 100% barrier to everything including bacteria and other harmful substances. However, simple things like an insect bite or even a paper cut can cause this barrier to break open. If not cared for properly, then bacteria (which we all carry on the skin surface) can gain entry to the tissues and cause an infection. When this happens, you may require a course of antibiotics but there are simple measures you can take to help reduce the risk of infection.

So what should you do if you have a cut?

If a cut occurs, surgical spirit (available in a small bottle from your pharmacist without a prescription) can be applied to the wound and the immediate area of skin around the injury. The surgical spirit will sting for a few moments but then ease and stop. This alone is usually enough to stop the infection.

What if it’s an insect bite?

If the injury is due to an insect bite such as a ‘midge’, a tiny mosquito or bee or wasp sting, then using the surgical spirit is again very useful as it cools the area of the sting as the solution evaporates from the skin. If the barb of the sting is visible, then use a clean small forceps or tweezers to remove it (you can dip the end of the forceps or tweezers into the surgical spirit to clean it prior to using it for this). Then apply some more of the surgical spirit to minimise any infection.

Any other action I should take?

As the immune system mounts a reaction to the insect bite through the release of histamines which can cause itching, taking an antihistamine tablet will help to reduce and ease this irritation. This also means the bite area is less likely to be scratched by you while you’re asleep and so the risk of further breaching the skin to allow in more bacteria is diminished. If the cut or bite stays red and sore and gets swollen or if you notice a streaky red line starting to appear on the affected limb (small cuts and insect bites are typically on the arms or legs), then this is a sign that the infection is spreading and definitely requires medical assessment.