No one wants to get bitten by a mosquito. However, those who are travelling to hot and humid countries can often find that mosquito bites are an annoying and painful reality. As well as being a general nuisance, mosquitos can be dangerous creatures, as many spread viruses and diseases through their bites.
Mosquitos can be found all around the world, but they prefer to live in hot and humid countries, so those planning a trip to warmer countries should be especially vigilant. In this article, we look at the risks of mosquito bites, how to avoid them, how to treat them and when you might need medical attention.
The Risk of Mosquito Bites
At best, mosquito bites can be itchy and painful for a short period; at worst, they can be deadly. Mosquitos may only be small, but they are considered the most deadly animal on Earth, and it’s thought that over 700,000 people die a year due to diseases spread by mosquito bites. Although not all mosquitos carry diseases, those who do, will still be able to bite and therefore spread the disease.
Some of the diseases the mosquitos are known to spread to humans are:
- Malaria: A parasitic infection that needs to be treated quickly. If left untreated, malaria can be fatal.
- Dengue Fever: A viral infection that, for most people, has no symptoms unless they have severe dengue fever. Those infected more than once are more likely to get severe dengue fever.
- Yellow Fever: A viral disease that affects the liver and kidneys. There is a vaccination for yellow fever that’s recommended for those travelling to high-risk countries.
- Chikungunya: A viral disease that causes a sudden onset of fever and joint pain. Most patients will make a full recovery.
The diseases that mosquitos carry will depend on the area in which you are travelling, with certain areas more prone to certain diseases.
How to Avoid Mosquito Bites
Luckily, there are ways that you can protect yourself from mosquito bites. One of the simplest is using a good quality insect repellent. Although insect repellents don’t kill mosquitos, they’ll help prevent them from wanting to land on you and bite you. A quick way to tell if an insect repellent is likely to be good is to check the DEET (diethyltoluamide) concentration. You should look at 20% DEET at a minimum; however, 50% is recommended, especially in countries with malaria (100% should only be used on clothing, not skin).
Another thing you can do to help avoid mosquito bites is to consider the clothing you are wearing. You’ll be able to stop mosquitos being able to reach your skin by wearing loose clothing that covers you up. Try to ensure you’re covered from your feet up to your neck with loose items for the best success. To take this a step further, you can treat your clothing with a strong insect repellent or an insecticide. There are clothes on the market pretreated with these things designed for travellers.
Of course, employing a mosquito net can also be useful. This will mean that during the evening and night hours, when you are relaxing or sleeping, you’ll be able to wear lighter clothing options or wash off your insect repellent and still feel protected. Ensure the net you’re using doesn’t have any holes and completely covers the area. Your skin shouldn’t be against the net, as you can still be bitten through it. Some nets are also treated with insecticides.
If you are staying somewhere for a long time, you should work out ways to minimise the number of mosquitos in your accommodation. As well as using nets, you can use screens on the windows and doors, utilise insect repellents and insecticides and use air conditioning rather than leaving windows and doors open.
You might also be able to take vaccines or preventative medicines before you travel if you know you’re going to a higher-risk area. The NHS talk about this regarding malaria: “If you're travelling to an area where malaria is found, get advice from a GP, nurse, pharmacist or travel clinic before you go. It's best to do this at least 4 to 6 weeks before you travel, but you can still get advice at the last minute if you need to."
“You may be prescribed antimalarial tablets to reduce the risk of getting malaria and told how you can prevent mosquito bites.”
Treating Mosquito Bites
The majority of mosquito bites can be easily treated without the need to talk to a medical professional, and after a few days, you won’t even notice them. One of the first things to do when you realise you have been bitten by a mosquito is to clean the area; this can be done with soap and warm water.
Many people will find they have a reaction to mosquito bites, and they can become inflamed and quite itchy. First off, you should not itch a bite if you get one, although we know it can be tempting. If washing the area with warm, soapy water doesn’t help, applying a cold compress might. Apply an ice pack to the area for 10 minutes and reapply as needed. You can also raise or elevate the area to help reduce swelling.
If you find that the itching continues to persist, then you can go to a supermarket or a pharmacy to get an over-the-counter anti-itch or antihistamine cream. These creams should be applied to the area of the bite according to the product directions and should help to reduce the itching and pain caused by the bite.
When to Seek Medical Help
Although a mosquito bite should be mostly cleared up after a few days, there might be times when you need to seek medical help after a bite. You should seek medical advice for a mosquito bite if:
- You have symptoms of an infection in the wound, including pus, pain, swelling and heat in the area.
- You have other symptoms after the bite has incurred, including a high temperature, flu-like symptoms or swollen glands.
- You find the area of the bite does not get better after a few days, continuing to increase in size, and become redder and more inflamed.
- You have symptoms of a severe reaction immediately after the bite, including a swollen face, difficulty breathing, feeling nauseous, feeling faint or a loss of consciousness.
- You have been bitten in and around your eyes or mouth.
Seeking medical help abroad can be intimidating, as many countries will have different healthcare systems, with many countries having paid healthcare. However, by investing in long-trip travel insurance, even if you are voyaging around the world on a long expedition, you’ll know you’ve been covered for any medical help you might need and any other complications you might face, such as curtailment, cancellation, lost luggage and theft.
If you’re looking for travel advice, from tips on the best destinations to staying safe whilst travelling, be sure to read our blog. Or, if you want to know more about travel insurance, be sure to read our travel insurance guides.