Use insect repellent
Using an insect repellent that contains DEET (50% concentration ideally) is by far the most effective way to avoid getting bitten by a mosquito. Make sure to apply the repellent thoroughly over any exposed areas of skin, and reapply if it gets washed off.
Be aware of when you are more likely to get bitten
- Anopheles mosquitoes (which spread malaria) are mostly active at night, or at dusk and dawn. They can bite indoors or outdoors.
- Aedes aegypti mosquitoes (which spread dengue and yellow fever) are often active during the day as well as at dusk and dawn. They can bite indoors or outdoors.
Wearing long-sleeved tops, trousers and shoes is advised, particularly at times when mosquitoes are most active.
Sleep under an impregnated mosquito net
An impregnated mosquito net is one that contains insecticide. Sleeping under one is a very effective way to protect yourself from getting bitten at night.
Ensure your accommodation is sufficiently protected
Insect-proof screen doors and windows that close properly are an important consideration when choosing your accommodation abroad.
Avoid areas that mosquitoes tend to populate
Mosquitoes depend on water storage to lay their eggs, so it is wise to keep away from:
- bodies of water such as ponds, swamps and lakes
- water-filled containers such as flower pots, bird baths and buckets
- storm drains or wells
Can natural remedies protect against mosquito bites?
There is no evidence to support claims that garlic or vitamin B work as effective mosquito repellents. Some herbal medicines such as citronella have been proven to repel mosquitoes, however they require very frequent reapplication (every 30 minutes) which is impractical for most travellers.
Which diseases can be spread by mosquitoes?
Five diseases commonly spread by mosquito bites are:
Malaria is an incredibly common disease spread by the female Anopheles mosquito, that causes flu-like symptoms (fever, chills, vomiting, diarrhoea, muscle pain). In some cases, malaria can lead to severe complications and death. The World Health Organisation reported that in 2012 there were 207 million cases of malaria worldwide, leading to 627,000 deaths.
Travellers can protect themselves by taking medication such as Malarone (atovaquone with proguanil), Lariam (mefloquine) or doxycycline and of course, by avoiding mosquito bites. Learn more about the symptoms of malaria here.
Yellow fever is serious viral infection. The initial symptoms of yellow fever are similar to malaria - fever, vomiting, headaches and muscle pain - however if the virus progresses to a toxic phase it can lead to jaundice, kidney failure and death. The WHO estimates that every year there are 200,000 cases of yellow fever, leading to 30,000 deaths.
Dengue is a viral infection, diagnosed by a high temperature (40℃ or above), severe headache, pain behind the eyes, vomiting, muscle pain and swollen glands. There is no cure for dengue and no vaccine, but in most cases it will pass on its own. In some cases, however, it develops into a more serious condition, occasionally leading to death.
Japanese encephalitis is spread by mosquitoes and is most commonly found in rural areas of South East Asia and the Far East. Most people who contract this disease do not suffer any symptoms, however in around 1 in 250 cases the virus can spread to the brain causing seizures and paralysis. In cases where people develop more severe symptoms, the fatality rate can be as high as 30%.
West Nile Virus
The West Nile virus is very similar to Japanese encephalitis, however it is found around the world including Australia, parts of Europe, and the USA. In 2015, 2060 cases of West Nile Virus were reported in the USA.
Of these five diseases, only yellow fever and Japanese encephalitis have a vaccine, and only malaria can be protected against with preventative medicines. There are no medically preventative methods that can protect against West Nile Virus or Dengue. As a result, it is vital to protect yourself against getting bitten by a mosquito in the first place.