The world is indeed an “Open Book”. It has lots of fun pages waiting to be explored, and travelling is the only way to read it. Whether you are planning to travel during the Christmas Holidays or in the summer to beat the heat, the world offers endless options for both adventure seekers and travellers alike.
But travelling across the world is not an entirely fun experience. Dangers are always around the corner and they come in various forms and sizes. Just like this seemingly harmless midge-like fly which often lurks in the shadows trying to spot its next victim. This real-life vampire has a notorious appetite for human blood and feeds by piercing through the host’s skin – the mosquito.
Here are ways to avoid mosquito-borne diseases while travelling.
What is a mosquito?
The mosquito is an ectoparasite insect with a slender body and elongated legs. Through their tube-like mouthparts, the males basically feed on plant juices or flower nectar while their female counterparts hunt for blood which they need for the development of their eggs. The mosquito has approximately around 1,500 different species and belongs in the Culicidae family which is considered as the deadliest in the animal kingdom.
Because they are one of the best transmitters of diseases.
Mosquitos, particularly the females, need to feed on blood in order to secure the maturity of their eggs. Contrary to the term “mosquito bite”, these insects don’t have teeth so they don’t bite at all. Instead, they use their proboscis to pierce through the victim’s skin and suck blood. While feeding, female mosquitos transmit viruses and parasites that cause serious and deadly diseases. These diseases include Malaria, Dengue and Yellow Fevers, Zika and West Nile viruses, and Chikungunya among many others. Annually, mosquito-borne diseases claim hundreds of thousands of lives across the globe.
Below are three of the most common and dreaded mosquito-borne diseases:
Malaria is a type of blood disease caused by a Plasmodium parasite-infected Anopheles mosquito. The parasite enters the bloodstream of the victim and finds its way to the liver. Upon maturity, the parasites will begin attacking the red blood cells and multiply in it. Infected cells burst open giving birth to more Plasmodium parasites which will then proceed to attack more red blood cells. Malaria victims usually suffer shaking chills, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, anaemia, headaches, bloody stools, and convulsions. If untreated, malaria can lead to life-threatening complications such as kidney/liver organ failure, cerebral malaria, and pulmonary edema.
Currently, there is no vaccine to prevent malaria but victims can be treated in the hospital through prescribed medications.
Some of the most common Malaria locations include:
|Rank||Country||Reported Malaria Cases||Reported Deaths|
|1||Democratic Republic of the Congo||4,561,981||23,748|
|3||United Republic of Tanzania||1,845,917||840|
The above graph was an excerpt of 73 of the top locations where people have contracted Malaria. Even though the above graph reports on 2011 data, it still gives you some insight as to where the issues are.
See below for a couple locations I decided to highlight as they are relatively popular travel destinations.
|Rank||Country||Reported Malaria Cases||Reported Deaths|
If you are experiencing severe headaches, rash, and fever altogether, chances are that you are suffering from dengue fever. This mosquito-borne disease is caused by one of the four strains of the dengue virus. Dengue infected Aedes mosquitos are known to be prevalent in the tropics and subtropics such as Southeast Asia, Southern China, Taiwan, The Caribbean, Mexico, Central and South America, and Africa. The virus can easily spread from one person to another if a mosquito bites a dengue-infected individual and moves on to its next victim.
The symptoms of the disease usually show after three to fifteen days of infection and these include body rash, muscle and joint pains, bleeding gums, and red palms. A more severe case of the said disease is known as the Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever which comes with life-threatening symptoms such as nose and gum bleeding, high fever, liver enlargement, massive bleeding, and failure of the person’s circulatory system. There is no known direct treatment for the disease. Patients diagnosed with dengue are instead treated with medications intended for the relief of symptoms.
Chikungunya is considered as the milder version of the Dengue disease because of the likeness of its symptoms. The disease has been once dubbed as the disease of the tropics. Symptoms, however, appear earlier (3-7 days upon infection) compared to Dengue Fever’s three to fifteen days. Infection can only be detected through a blood test. People infected by the chikungunya virus show symptoms that include fever, headache, joint swelling, muscle pain, and rash. Victims are treated only for relief of symptoms and usually overcome the disease within a week.
How to avoid mosquito bites when you travel
When it comes to travelling, safety should always be your top priority. Attributed to hundreds of thousands of deaths yearly worldwide, it is imperative to steer clear from these deadly real-life vampires wherever you choose to travel. Here are some proven effective life-saving tips that will help you enjoy your trip without having to be confined in a hospital:
Sidestep from the danger zones
When planning your vacation or travel itinerary, consider browsing the websites of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization for critical information regarding mosquito hotspots. In summer, go over these websites to know what’s hot and what’s not since mosquitos are alarmingly active during this time of the year.
Go light instead of dark (Clothing)
If you are fond of wearing clothes with shades of black, brown, midnight blue, and dim grey, perhaps it’s already time to step into the light. Most mosquitos are active at dusk and wearing dark clothes will make you an easy target. Light colours on the other hand, make you less visible and less vulnerable to mosquito bites.
If it is unavoidable to travel to countries that have been classified as mosquito hotspots, one of the best ways to protect one’s self from these deadly bloodsuckers is to cover up with protective clothing such as pants, socks, and sweatshirts. These clothes help minimize exposed skin thus, lessening your chances of getting bitten by a disease-carrying mosquito.
Know your enemy
One must understand and respect mosquitos. Taking them for granted will take you a huge step closer to becoming its next victim. Most mosquitoes live in tropical and subtropical countries although there are only a handful of countries which have been considered as mosquito-free. These are Iceland, Seychelles, Antarctica, French Polynesia, and New Caledonia. Whether it is day (Dengue) or night (Malaria), there’s always a chance of getting infected by a disease-carrying mosquito.
As soon as you check into your accommodation, make sure to fortify your room prior to defending yourself from mosquitos. Check the doors and windows for insect screens and close them in the absence of such protection. Seal off cracks, holes, and any possible mosquito entry points.
Use a Mosquito Net
Whether you are camping outdoors or checking in to a hotel, it’s advisable to use a mosquito net over your bed especially if you are visiting a known mosquito hotspot. Just make sure that all corners and edges of the bottom side of the net are securely tucked in. Mosquito nets are effective in protecting you from mosquito bites throughout the night. Click here for more information on the top nets.
Use DEET products
DEET Products are the most widely used insect repellants against mosquitos. They come in various forms such as sprays, lotions, and roll-ons and they have N-diethyl-meta-toluamide as its active ingredient which is commonly used to repel various types of biting insects, especially mosquitos. Determine the level of DEET in your product to know the length of protection that you have. A 7% DEET for example, provides protection for up to two hours.
Although DEET is what’s popular and most effective against mosquitoes, alternatives include other ingredients such as:
- Picaridin: Considered to be slightly safer than DEET with fewer reported side effects. Most formulations can protect for up to 8 hours
- Essential Oils: Oils such as citronella, geranium, lemon eucalyptus are all more “natural” mosquito repellents that last for about 2-4 hours. Although they are more natural, they tend to be less effective and need to be reapplied frequently.
- IR3535: This is another alternative to DEET with slightly better results than essential oils. Like DEET, IR3535 is a synthetic repellent, but lacks the odour and staining properties of DEET (click here to learn more about IR3535 vs DEET).
Burning mosquito coils is the traditional way of repelling mosquitos. You can use this in the absence of a reliable DEET lotion or spray and if you are not allergic to its smell. Mosquito coils, however, are only advisable for outdoor use.
If you plan to be stationary for long periods of time, it might make sense to invest in a mosquito trap that you can deploy, which will serve as additional protection. Traps lure mosquitoes and trap them where they would die for lack of food or in a pool of water depending on your setup. You can learn more about mosquito traps here.
Cool off and take a shower
Mosquitos like their victims hot and sweaty. Why? Mosquitos are able to zero in on their targets through their sweat and body temperature. So if you just came in sweating after a morning or afternoon jog, make sure that you cool off and take a shower before you become a mosquito’s meal.