There’s an episode of The Simpsons where Homer asks Ned Flanders (who is mid-nervous breakdown) what he thinks about mosquito bites, and Ned – in relentlessly positive fashion – replies “Mm! Sure are fun to scratch!”.
I’ve always been kind of a Flanders about mosquito bites, maybe because I’ve never had much trouble with them. But things have changed since going on this trip. I’ve seen things. Things that have turned me into a dedicated DEET user and made me shun outdoor seating areas at night unless my ankles are fully covered.
Mosquitoes, as it turns out, suck. In every sense of the word.
Four Reasons to Protect Yourself Against Mosquito Bites
- Mosquitoes spread malaria, a serious tropical disease that can be fatal without treatment (it killed 627,000 people in 2012).
- Mosquitoes spread other diseases such as dengue, Japanese encephalitis and yellow fever. Some mosquito-borne diseases do not have vaccines, preventative treatments or cures and can be fatal.
- Bites can become infected if they’re scratched. An allergy to mosquito bites can also cause a serious reaction.
- They make your legs look like this:
Yes, that is my leg and yes, despite the attractive green quilt in the background, it was hard to make those bites work for me as a fashion statement. Those beauties happened while my boyfriend and I were travelling through Vietnam. From muggy Hanoi we moved onto the scorching beach towns of NHA Trang and Mui Ne, and it wasn’t until we reached our last stop, Saigon, that we realised how bad our bites were.
Mosquitoes thrive in environments that are warm and wet. But, as I learned, it doesn’t matter whether you’re in a city, by the sea, walking through a rainforest or holed up in your hostel dorm – you can get bitten pretty much anywhere.
How to Prevent Mosquito Bites
- Buy insect repellent containing DEET. The higher the content, the better protected you’ll be. You can browse repellents here.
- Cover up as much as possible and apply repellent to any exposed areas of your body, particularly your ankles, feet, wrists and hands.
- Be aware that you’re most at risk from bites between sunset and sunrise. Though some mosquitoes are active in the day, the ones that spread malaria are most active at night.
- Sleep under a mosquito net impregnated with insect repellent, and stay in accommodation with screens on the windows and doors.
Read more about how to protect yourself here.
After leaving Vietnam, I got into the habit of slathering myself with Pyramid Repel 100 every day. It was incredibly effective – neither myself nor my boyfriend got bitten once in Cambodia or Thailand – although very oily (I’d put it on in the bathroom).
Of course, despite the precautions, it’s not always easy to completely avoid bites. Which is why you may also need – duh duh DUH – malaria tablets.
Before this trip, my experience of taking malaria tablets came second-hand from friends, including one who used them on a trip to Kenya aged 15. Whether or not he actually dreamt about Salvador Dali’s melting clocks (he swears this is true), it’s certainly the case that malaria tablets can have a strange effect on your brain. As it turned out, I didn’t suffer any side effects – my boyfriend complained a little of disturbed sleep, but that’s pretty standard when you’re travelling. Fellow traveller Charlie (26, London) told me that she suffered nausea if she took her tablets, Doxycycline, on an empty stomach and so always ensured she ate beforehand.
My chosen malaria tablet was Atovaquone with Proguanil. Much like you would buy generic ibuprofen in a chemist over the more expensive Nurofen, Atovaquone with Proguanil is the cheaper generic alternative to the well-known brand Malarone.
How did I choose a malaria tablet?
- I checked out the malaria info for each of the high-risk countries I was visiting (China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia) on the NHS site Fit For Travel. As high-risk areas tend to change, along with the tablets you will need, it’s important to keep an eye on up-to-date information. Fit For Travel shows which areas are most high-risk, and recommends a safe tablet. In my case, Atovaquone with Proguanil was recommended for all the areas I was visiting.
- I also examined the differences between various malaria tablets. Atovaquone and Malarone appealed to me over alternatives because they only have to be taken for two days before entering a malaria zone and seven days after leaving it.
- Lastly, I chose Atovaquone as it was cheaper than Malarone. Leaving me more money for pad thai and beer.
The NHS does not supply malaria tablets for free, so I purchased mine from LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor – although they are also available from other travel clinics and pharmacies, and through your GP.
How to Cope If You Get Bitten
- First of all, don’t start scratching. I know it’s hard. I know. But scratching can break the skin and lead to infection.
- According to my sister – whose blood apparently tastes like a vintage Châteauneuf-du-Pape to mosquitoes – the best thing to kill the itch is cooling it with ice or very cold water.
- Creams or sprays containing hydrocortisone, antihistamine or local anaesthetic can soothe itchiness and inflammation. I found hydrocortisone reduced swelling and that moisturising my legs and wearing a thick pair of leggings while I slept softened the skin, reducing the size of the bites. Antihistamine tablets can also help.
- A mosquito bite clicker (I have no idea how else to describe it) can also be used. It’s a small plastic device that delivers a painless electric charge to the bite and supposedly kills the itch. My boyfriend found it effective, but it didn’t seem to work on me!
- Lastly, if you’re in a tight spot, you can try killing the itch by pressing a fingernail into the centre of the bite in a cross shape.
If the bite is very inflamed or very sore, and if it doesn’t clear up after a few days you should see a doctor.
|Old Wives’ Tales: Does toothpaste stop the itch of a mosquito bite?I was on a flight and had a really itchy bite, but all I had to hand was a tiny tube of toothpaste that we’d been given free on the plane. I dabbed a bit on the bite and quickly forgot about the itch and fell asleep. So I guess it worked?Ian, 25, EdinburghVerdict: Potentially a placebo, but worth a try if you don’t have anything else to hand.|