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Mosquito Bite Avoidance

Introduction 

Mosquito bites are a common problem during travel, especially to warmer countries. The measures described on this page will help you avoid being bitten and know how to treat bites if they happen.

Risks of Mosquito Bites

Mosquitoes bite humans to feed on your blood. During this process, they can infect you with diseases such as:

When mosquitoes bite they cause a small itchy red bump on your skin. Some people develop an allergic skin reaction to the bites, and the bumps become large. Scratching the bites can lead to infections developing in the skin.

Different types of mosquito feed at different times of the day both indoors and outdoors. Therefore you should take precautions to avoid being bitten at all times of day and night during travel.

Avoiding Mosquito Bites

Before you travel consider how you will protect yourself from mosquito bites during your trip. This involves:

You should also be aware of how to treat bites if they occur.

Insect Repellents

Insect repellents do not kill mosquitoes, but should stop them landing on and biting your skin. They work against different types of insect bites.

In general, insect repellents should be:

  • applied to all areas of exposed skin not covered by clothing
  • applied after sunscreen; be aware that the SPF protection of your sunscreen may be reduced
  • reapplied regularly, particularly if you notice mosquitoes flying close to your skin
  • reapplied after swimming, washing or excessive sweating
  • applied carefully around the face and eyes. Be careful not to breathe in the repellent – if using a spray, spray it onto your hands and then rub onto your face
  • kept away from synthetic clothes or plastics as it may damage them, for example credit cards, phones, watches or glasses

Different brands of insect repellent are available, and come in different strengths (concentrations). As a rule, the higher the strength, the longer the repellent should protect you from being bitten before you need to reapply it. When applied to the skin properly they should provide several hours of protection. Always check the exact instructions on the bottle for how often to apply.

Effective repellents should contain one of the following active ingredients:

  • DEET (diethyltoluamide)
    • this is the most effective insect repellent
    • a concentration between 20 and 50% should be used
    • use 50% in areas where there is malaria
    • can be used on babies over 2 months old, and pregnant women
    • 100% DEET should never be used on skin but can be sprayed onto clothing for extra protection
  • Icaradin (Picardin)
    • at least 20% concentration should be used to protect against mosquito-borne infections
  • Lemon Eucalyptus (PMD)
    • needs to be at least 30% concentration to be effective
    • needs to be reapplied more frequently than 30% DEET
  • IR3535
    • less effective than DEET or Icaridin at preventing bites from the type of mosquitos that carry malaria
    • should not be used in countries where malaria is present

You should always read and carefully follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the insect repellent that you purchase.

Oil of Citronella products only work for a very short time and cannot be relied upon to prevent mosquito and insect bites. Other methods which do not work and should not be relied upon are:

  • applying tea tree oil to your skin
  • taking Vitamin B1 and Vitamin B12 tablets
  • eating garlic or yeast extracts
  • using bath oils and skin softeners
  • drinking alcohol
  • using electronic buzzers or mobile phone apps that emit high frequency sound waves

Clothing

Clothing stops mosquitoes reaching your skin and biting. Mosquitoes cannot bite through loose clothing but can if your clothing is tight. In hot climates, your clothing can be thin, as long as it is loose. Any areas of skin not covered by clothing should have insect repellent applied.

Consider wearing loose fitting clothing with:

  • a high neckline
  • long sleeves
  • long trouser legs or long skirt or dress
  • socks

For added protection, clothing can be treated (by washing or spraying) with insecticides such as Permethrin which kill insects when they land on the fabric.

  • Insecticide kits and spray are available to buy from outdoor/travel suppliers; the manufacturer's instructions should be followed.
  • Clothes already pre-treated with insecticides can be bought.
  • Frequent washing of clothes means the insecticide will stop working as well.

Mosquito Nets

A mosquito net creates a barrier, preventing mosquitoes and other insects being able to reach your skin when you are sleeping or resting. The barrier is stronger if the net has also been treated (impregnated) with insecticide.

Nets can be retreated; the manufacturer's instructions should be followed when washing or retreating bed nets with insecticides.

There are many different styles and shapes of mosquito net available, that can be used indoors and outdoors. It is important to choose a net that best suits your type of travel.

How to use a Mosquito Net

Checks for any holes in the net before using it. If a hole is apparent, then this can be mended using for example a needle and thread.

You should tuck the net under your mattress or ground sheet during the night, and either collapse it down, or keep it tucked up during the day to stop insects flying under and into the net.

The net should allow enough space so that your skin does not rest directly against it, because mosquitoes may still bite through it. This opportunity is reduced if your net has been treated with insecticide.

Reducing Mosquitoes in and around your accommodation

You can reduce the chance of mosquitoes entering your accommodation by using:

  • air conditioning
    • insects are unlikely to enter rooms where air conditioning is used properly and constantly
    • you do not need a mosquito net if you use the air conditioning
    • windows and doors must be kept closed for the air conditioning to work
  • mosquito screens
    • mesh screens on windows and doors should be checked for holes that could let insects fly through, and holes repaired
    • screens should be kept closed at all times to avoid insects coming into the room
    • an insecticide spray or plug-in should also be used
  • insecticide (Pyrethroid) products
    • ‘plug-in’ products use electricity to slowly release insecticide from a liquid or tablet into your room
    • they do not provide enough protection from bites alone, but can be used alongside mosquito nets and/or mosquito screens
    • they will not work with an unreliable electricity supply

Insect repelling candles, methylated burners, cones and coils can be used when there is no electricity, but should NOT be used indoors.

Reducing mosquitoes outside your accommodation

Mosquitoes lay their eggs in water. Even a small amount of water lying in a flower pot, a bucket or in tree hole is enough. If there are no water sources, then mosquitoes cannot breed.

  • Try to make sure there is no stagnant water lying around outside your accommodation to reduce the opportunity for mosquitoes to breed.

In tropical areas where mosquitoes are a problem, breeding sites are often sprayed with insecticide.

Treating Mosquito Bites

Scratching an itchy bite can damage the skin and may cause the bite to become infected. Reducing the itching can help to prevent this. Putting a cold cloth over the bite can help soothe the itch.

If you are aware that your skin reacts badly to bites, consider purchasing a bite relief cream or antihistamine tablets before you travel.

  • ‘Bite relief’ creams and ointments can be bought in pharmacies and supermarkets. They contain steroids (such as hydrocortisone 1%) or antihistamines and reduce the redness and itch when rubbed onto bites.
  • The itch from bites is reduced by taking a daily antihistamine tablet. You must discuss the suitability of taking these with your pharmacist, doctor or travel health advisor.

Resources

Further information on protecting yourself against insect bites is available on the Bug Off website 

Online Suppliers

The products mentioned on this page are available to purchase in some high street stores and through various online suppliers such as those mentioned below.  Please note this list is not exhaustive:

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