With the onset of the yearly monsoon season in India that extends from June to November across various states in the country, mosquito bites are a rather common occurrence. However, these bugs which thrive in the puddles that form after heavy rains and in open contaminated water bodies trigger another ailment through their stings besides malaria, dengue fever, Zika virus disease, West Nile virus, chikungunya, known as Skeeter Syndrome. Also called Hypersensitivity To Mosquito Bites or Mosquito Bite Allergies, it refers to an allergic reaction that develops after being bitten by mosquitoes.
Most people develop a slight inflammatory reaction after a mosquito bite, which appears as a wheal with a red dot in the centre accompanied by itching and redness. But some individuals acquire a fever or even display severe allergic reactions i.e., anaphylaxis upon being pricked by mosquitoes. Although this condition of allergic reactions to mosquito bites or Skeeter Syndrome is a rare occurrence, the symptoms must be reported to a doctor at once, to ensure prompt diagnosis and pertinent treatment.
Causes Of Mosquito Bite Allergies/Skeeter Syndrome:
Many different species of mosquitoes bite humans but in all of them, the male mosquitoes are generally harmless, feeding only on nectar and water. The female mosquitoes on the other hand, like the female Aedes mosquito which invariably instigates an epidemic of dengue every year in India during the monsoons, draw out blood from the people they attack.
After attaching to the human skin upon sensing the scent, exhaled carbon dioxide, chemicals exuded in sweat, these female mosquitoes consume their blood meal while excreting some proteins in their saliva. It is these non-toxic protein elements in the female mosquito’s sputum that are the allergens – substances that trigger allergic reactions, eventually leading to Skeeter syndrome.
Although mosquito bites affect all people showcasing minor bumps and redness, certain individuals are more susceptible to contracting Skeeter syndrome, such as:
- Infants and toddlers, since their natural immunity is still developing
- Persons who have recently visited or moved to a tropical location and are not yet sensitized to mosquito bites
- Individuals with vulnerable immune systems suffering from ailments like HIV-AIDS, cancer, who are prone to extreme reactions upon being exposed to and stung by mosquitoes
- People with higher levels of uric acid, lactic acid and ammonia discharge from their bodies and skin
- Persons living in regions with a hot, humid climate like tropical countries, swamplands, marshes where mosquitoes breed in large numbers in open water bodies
The distinguishing factor between regular mosquito bites and Skeeter syndrome is that normal bites swell to a size less than 2 cm in diameter, while allergic reactions prompt welts that are as large as 2 cm – 10 cm in diameter.
Furthermore, Skeeter syndrome triggers several accompanying signs, including:
- Painful red bumps at the site of mosquito bites and surrounding areas in the skin
- Swollen papules with red rashes – urticaria or hives
- Itching, irritation and puffiness that persists for a few days until the swelling subsides
While these are the usual indications resembling a skin allergy and lasting for a few days or weeks in the majority of cases of mosquito bite allergies, in very rare instances, life-threatening situations of anaphylaxis, breathing difficulty, with swollen lymph nodes, abdominal discomfort and high fever also occur.
The symptoms of Skeeter syndrome often resemble cellulitis, another inflammatory skin disorder and hence the doctor questions the patient as to the location in which they reside and if they have travelled to any tropical places recently, which increases the likelihood of coming across mosquito bites frequently.
The physician also conducts a thorough physical exam to assess the nature and severity of the allergic reaction to mosquito bites, besides collecting a sample of the patient’s blood to test for the presence of mosquito salivary proteins.
Once the instance of Skeeter syndrome is confirmed, treatment depends on the severity of the symptoms and level of inflammation in the skin. In intense mosquito bite allergies affecting only the skin, the doctor prescribes oral antihistamines to suppress the swelling, combat the allergens, aside from topical creams, lotions and warm oatmeal baths, to subside itching, redness, rashes.
Nevertheless, if Skeeter syndrome manifests in grave forms displaying anaphylaxis, then the patient requires emergency medical treatment in the hospital, apart from an epinephrine autoinjector to administer immediately to control the extreme allergic reactions.
The best way to avoid contracting skeeter syndrome is to curtail the chances of getting stung by mosquitoes. Simple prevention measures comprise:
- Wearing long-sleeved tops and full-length bottoms while going to warm, tropical places and using adequate insect repellents
- Applying mosquito repellent creams and sprays on exposed parts of the body if living in hot, humid sites
- Placing mosquito nets at home to stop mosquitoes from entering indoors
- Refraining from stepping out during dawn, dusk since mosquitoes are most active at these times, making people prone to mosquito bites
- Adding essential oils in diffusers to disperse the aroma indoors at home which is known to repel mosquitoes