Overseas travel can be exciting and can expose you to wonderful experiences, cultures and languages, but it can also put you at risk of contracting serious health problems that can ruin your holiday or worse. Mosquito species found in many locations around the world can transmit a number of diseases, so health experts advise anyone planning a trip should speak to a travel health practitioner at least six to eight weeks prior to your departure date, especially if you need vaccinations.
Potentially serious disease spread by mosquitoes
Malaria is one of the most well known serious and sometimes fatal diseases caused by mosquitoes. According to the CDC, the United States sees approximately 1,500 cases of malaria per year, almost all from travellers or immigrants. If you plan on visiting countries where malaria is prevalent, particularly sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, you can reduce your risk of being infected by taking antimalarial tablets daily or receiving a vaccination prior to your trip, in combination with taking measures to avoid being bitten in the first place. Read more about Malaria here.
Tropical areas such as Southeast Asia, the Caribbean and South America are all destinations where you are at risk of being infected with dengue fever. In fact the World Health Organisation believes dengue is found in more than 100 countries. The virus is spread by the Aedes mosquito which usually bites during the day, not in the evening like most other types of mosquitoes. There is currently no vaccine to protect you against dengue fever, so preventative measures are essential.
Although rare in travelers, yellow fever can produce flu-like illness or develop into a more severe form which can be life threatening. It is spread by the Aedes and Haemogousmosquitoes in both rural and urban areas of Africa and South America. A single treatment of yellow fever vaccine can help prevent you from being infected by the virus. Some countries require a certification that you have received the vaccination in order to enter or return to.
Other mosquito-borne viruses that can be contracted during your travels to certain destinations include chikungunya, West Nile virus, Japanese encephalitis and Ross virus just to name a few.
How to reduce your risks whilst on the road
All travelers heading to countries with mosquito-borne infections should take precautions to reduce the risks of transmission. This includes business travelers, back packers, tourists, missionaries, airline crew or students. As some diseases caused by the mosquito don’t have vaccine or medicines such as dengue, West Nile virus and chikungunya to prevent them, the most effective way to reduce your risk is to avoid mosquito bites altogether.
The CDC advises all travelers use repellent products registered by the EPA, indicating the ingredients have been approved for both efficacy and human safety.
When deciding on a travel destination, it is recommended you avoid any areas where there have been recent outbreaks of vector-borne diseases. You can visit the CDC travel site to get current updates on disease transmission patterns.
Travelers are advised to wear light colored clothing with long-sleeves and pants outdoors, particularly in peak times when mosquitoes are most active. In areas where mosquitoes are most prevalent, it may be wise to wear clothing treated with permethrin which repels and kills mosquitoes as well as ticks, chiggers and other biting insects. Items must be treated 24-48 hours prior to travel for the insecticide to dry.
Be aware mosquitoes may bite at any time of the day depending on the species. Mosquitoes infected with dengue and chikungunya usually bite during daylight hours whereas carriers of malaria are usually most active at dawn and dusk.
Bed nets are essential when staying in accommodation that is not adequately screened or air conditioned. You can purchase pre-treated nets with a pytrethroid insecticide before travelling which will be effective for several months if they are not washed. Ensure the net is tucked under the mattress and check regularly for any tears or tiny holes where mosquitoes can gain access.
Travelers should visit their doctor six to eight weeks prior to their trip to get advice tailored to their health needs and destinations. It is important to gain a full understanding of the risks of contracting a mosquito-borne illness based on the destinations and the type of activities undertaken during the travel period. The practitioner will provide specific information on vaccines and medicines available and their associated risks. When you return home from your travels, keep an eye on your health as some diseases may not become apparent until you have returned home.
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