Mosquito and Tick Protection

Everyone can agree that becoming a meal for a mosquito or tick is not pleasant. When traveling, it is vital to be aware of the potential risk you may be in so you can prepare accordingly. Be sure to wear the proper clothing, bring repellant, and sleep in an enclosed space or with a mosquito net to keep yourself bite-free.

Travelling is often an exciting time full of endless possibilities. There are many things on our minds when we set off including how we’re getting there, where we will be staying, and what we are going to do when there. However, another critical aspect of preparing for a trip is being aware of any diseases that you will be at risk of, e.g. those transmitted by mosquitos and ticks.

 

Especially with ticks, it is important to remember that they can also pose a health risk independently of a trip, i.e. at home in Switzerland. Tick-borne meningitis (TBE) can be effectively vaccinated against.


Diseases Transmitted by Mosquitos


There are three common mosquito-borne diseases that can impact travelers and cause complications, putting a definite dent in what should be an enjoyable vacation. These three diseases are malaria, dengue fever, and yellow fever.

Malaria

Malaria results from a parasite transmitted by the female Anopheles mosquito, which is only active from dusk to dawn.

While the Anopheles mosquitos get a bad rap for transmitting malaria, the truth is that they must first contract malaria themselves from a human host. So, if the Anopheles mosquito bites an infected person, they then become infected and can infect someone else when they grab their next meal.

The symptoms of malaria can come on fast, and you’ll feel very bad very quickly if you become infected.

Symptoms include:

  • high fever
  • vomiting
  • aching limbs
  • feeling weak

However, this does not mean that you will show symptoms right away. Some people have a pathogen that remains dormant at first, sometimes for several months, before breaking out. Just when you think you’re in the clear!

If you experience any of the above mentioned symptoms after traveling to a malaria risk area, whether immediately or months after your trip, you should see a doctor at once. It is crucial to make the diagnosis quickly with a blood test so that the necessary treatment can be started immediately to prevent complications.

 

Dengue Fever

Dengue fever is due to a virus transmitted by the tiger mosquito, which is most commonly found in cities but also in rural regions.

Dengue fever has main symptoms of fever and a skin rash. For tourists who have their first case of dengue fever, these symptoms typically subside on their own. However, those who undergo repeated infection can develop dangerous symptoms.

There is no specific treatment for dengue fever. Since it can cause blood clotting problems, we do not recommend to carry painkillers with you that inhibit blood platelets (e.g. aspirin). Instead, we suggest paracetamol as a painkiller for your first aid kit on travels.

 

Dengue fever has some of the same symptoms as malaria, which can cause a dangerous scenario. If someone thinks they have dengue fever, they will likely wait for the virus to run its course. However, if they actually have malaria, they could be endangering themselves by not receiving treatment right away. The visit to the doctor and a correct diagnosis is, therefore, very important.

Yellow Fever

Of the three mentioned mosquito-borne diseases, yellow fever belongs to the most dangerous ones with fatal outcomes in 50% of severe cases. Like dengue fever, it is caused by a virus.

Previously, yellow fever was seen most often in rural areas in east-west Africa and South America (especially Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador). However, recently it has been seen to move closer and closer to cities.

Important to know: There is a very effective vaccine against yellow fever and many countries affected by yellow fever require this vaccination in order to enter.

Tick Borne Diseases


Fun fact: Ticks aren’t actually insects, they’re arachnids (like spiders). However, just like mosquitos, they bite and suck blood. In the process, infected ticks can transmit diseases that include Lyme disease, tick-borne encephalitis, or tick-bite fevers. 

Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is caused by a bacterial infection that passes to humans when bitten by an infected black-legged tick.

Lyme diseases causes symptoms that include fever, headache, and fatigue. The most prominent sign of Lyme disease is a skin rash that appears as a ringed circle.

Most cases of Lyme’s disease can be treated with a few weeks of antibiotics.

Tick-Borne Encephalitis

Unlike Lyme disease, tick-borne encephalitis is caused by a virus that impacts the central nervous system.

There are typically two phases of the infection. During the first stage, symptoms such as fever, headache, fatigue, nausea, and muscle aches appear. However, during the second phase, more severe symptoms involving the nervous system can arise, including encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) and meningitis (inflammation of the membrane surrounding the brain and spinal cord).

There is no treatment for tick-borne encephalitis. However, there is a vaccine which is recommended for those who live or temporarily stay in areas with reported transmission of tick-borne encephalitis.

Tick-Bite Fever

Tick-Bite fever is caused by bacterial infection, and symptoms often appear within two weeks of the bite. Symptoms include fever, headache, swollen lymph nodes, muscle soreness, and a rash.


Protecting Against Bites

When traveling to an area at high risk of mosquito or tick-borne diseases, it is crucial to take the proper precautions to protect yourself from infection. Check the Healthy Travel website to see what your travel location is at risk of, and structure your prevention accordingly.

While some of these bite-transmitted diseases have vaccinations, for many illnesses the only protection available is avoiding the bite in the first place.

Cover Up

If there is no exposed skin, the mosquitos and ticks have a hard time to bite you. Because of this, it is recommended to cover up your skin as much as you can (i.e., wear long pants and shirts). Additionally, wear shoes and high socks to keep the ankles and feet from being exposed. This is especially important for protecting against ticks since some repellents are not as effective against ticks.

Mosquito Nets

The Anopheles mosquito that transmits malaria is a night owl that only bites between dusk and dawn. Because of this, mosquito nets that go over your bed can keep you safe while sleeping.

Bug Repellants

One good thing about bug repellants is that they are effective until they are washed off, so you only have to reapply when it has been rinsed away. However, since sweating can also reduce the bug protection, it is reccomended to reaply the repellant after 4-5 hours. It is important to ensure that bug sprays for the skin do not have a high concentration of DEET, as it can attack human nerves, which can be dangerous.

Besides spraying mosquito repellents directly onto the skin, there are also sprays for clothing and mosquito nets that effectively repel mosquitoes and should be used in addition to skin sprays.

Protecting Yourself from Mosquito and Tick Bites


Everyone can agree that becoming a meal for a mosquito or tick is not pleasant. Despite the itching that a mosquito causes or the need to remove a tick from where it is embedded in the skin, there are extra things to worry about, including the diseases they can potentially carry and transmit.

When traveling, it is vital to be aware of the potential risk you may be in so you can prepare accordingly. Be sure to wear the proper clothing, bring repellant, and sleep in an enclosed space or with a mosquito net to keep yourself bite-free.

For most mosquito and tick-borne diseases, preventing bites is the best way to prevent disease, so stay vigilant!

References


  1. Yellow fever. (2019). Retrieved 17 May 2022, from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/yellow-fever
  2. Health risks – HealthyTravel.ch. (2022). Retrieved 2 May 2022, from https://www.healthytravel.ch/health-risks/

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