Mosquito bites are a common problem for travellers. At best, they are merely irritating as their bites are usually very itchy or sore. Scratching mosquito bites can result in marking of the skin, and potentially more permanent scarring. However, in certain parts of the world mosquitoes are carriers of serious diseases. It is important to know the risks when travelling to a new destination and take appropriate precautions.
Malaria is a disease spread by female mosquitoes and is prevalent in many areas across the globe. Its severity differs from region to region and in some cases can be fatal. If travelling to a malaria zone, you are advised to take antimalarial medication as a precaution. You can read about malaria and types of antimalarials here.
Yellow fever is a severe viral infection found in parts of Africa, South America and the Caribbean. Mosquitoes carry the virus and in severe cases can lead to jaundice, kidney failure and death in individuals. A vaccine can protect you against yellow fever before travelling to high-risk areas.
Dengue is a viral infection found in many parts of the world. Most cases are mild and pass in about a week, but in rare cases it can be life-threatening. There is no specific treatment or vaccine for dengue, so it is essential to avoid or prevent being bitten by mosquitos if travelling to an area where it is known to be prevalent.
Japanese Encephalitis is a viral brain infection spread from animals to humans via mosquitos. It is most common in Southeast Asia, the Pacific Islands and the Far East. Travellers can be vaccinated before their trip but should take precautions against mosquito bites to reduce further their risk of contracting the virus.
West Nile Virus, very rarely found in UK travellers, is similar to Japanese encephalitis. It is found in Australia, parts of Europe and the USA. Like dengue, there is no specific treatment or preventative for West Nile Virus other than to avoid and prevent mosquitoes bites.
Mosquitos breed in damp and dark places, so try to stay somewhere with air-conditioning and plenty of sunlight and ventilation. You should also avoid staying near areas that mosquitoes tend to populate, such as stagnant water sources like ponds, lakes, or storm drains.
While it is tempting to wear short and sleeveless clothing when visiting warm and humid climates, it is in these conditions that mosquitoes prefer to breed. It is worth covering your skin as much as possible, particularly if the area is a known malaria hotspot. It is vitally important to cover up during dusk and night, as mosquitoes love to feed in the evening. You’ll notice the numbers of mosquitoes increase as the sun sets, and it may be worth staying indoors during these hours.
Applying an insect repellent to your skin is the best way to avoid mosquito bites. Ideally, you should buy one containing 50% DEET concentration, but you can purchase repellants with higher DEET concentrations if travelling to an area where the mosquitos are particularly determined. Your pharmacist can help you choose which one to buy, and application instructions will be on the label. It is important to wear repellent even at night and to reapply after washing.
You can buy mosquito nets to hang over your bed while you sleep. The best ones are also covered with mosquito repellent. The net should be long enough to reach the floor and be tucked under your mattress. Make sure to check your net for holes or tears before use.
These come in many forms. You can use an air spray in your room before you sleep, or mosquito-killing coils which you burn. There are also electric humidifiers that can be plugged into the wall and mats which keep mosquitoes out.
There is no evidence to support rumours that garlic or vitamin B work to protect against mosquitoes. Herbal repellents such as citronella oil have been proven to repel mosquitoes, but require frequent application which is impractical for most travellers.
Malaria is, by far, the most common mosquito-borne disease. While mosquito avoidance is always recommended, you are not likely to need malaria medication when visiting the following countries:
Belize, Bhutan, Cape Verde, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Western Sahara.
Some areas of countries may also be higher risk than others, and mosquito avoidance may be adequate for some regions of:
Burma, China, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guyana, Madagascar, México, Namibia, Nicaragua, Suriname, Thailand, Vietnam.
Speak to a doctor, or use the CDC guidelines to see if you need antimalarials for the areas you are visiting. Click here for a full list of areas with a high risk of malaria or click here to see a map showing you which antimalarials work best in each area.
NHS Fit for Travel - Mosquito Bite Avoidance: https://www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk/advice/malaria/mosquito-bite-avoidance
NHS Dengue: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/dengue/
NHS Yellow Fever: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/yellow-fever/
NHS Jap Encephalitis: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/japanese-encephalitis/
NHS West Nile Virus: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/west-nile-virus/