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Apart from being a nuisance while traveling, mosquitoes pose two real health threats: Disease and Infection.
The World Health Organization estimates that approximately 20,000 people die per year due to snakebites, but mosquito-borne malaria kills more than fifty times that. Add yellow fever, dengue fever and others to the threat, and all of a sudden humans seem to be losing the battle.
In addition, scratching mosquito bites with dirty fingernails in a tropical environment can turn a nuisance into a fever-causing infection. And backpackers covered in oozing skin lesions that have risen from mosquito bites is still an all too common sight.
So before your next trip to the tropics, careful consideration and planning should be given to managing mosquitoes and their bites.
Avoiding mosquito bites
The best way to avoid the discomfort and possible diseases caused by mosquito bites is to avoid getting bitten in the first place. Some tips to avoid getting bitten by mosquitoes include:
- Wear long sleeves clothing, long pants and socks, to keep as much of your body covered.
- Wear light coloured clothing, which attracts fewer mosquitoes than dark coloured clothes.
- If trekking or camping, wear specially designed clothing made of strong materials that offer comfort as well as maximum protection from mosquitoes.
- Avoid wearing floral fragrances (eg. perfume, after shave, deodorant), as mosquitoes are attracted naturally to flower nectar.
- Use a mosquito netting over your bed, and ensure any holes on the net are patched up and covered.
- Turn the fan on, to keep air moving, which makes it harder for mosquitoes to land on you.
- Apply some mosquito repellent on exposed skin. (Note DEET-containing repellents should be used with caution, and always follow manufacturer’s directions and advice.)
- If a natural alternative is preferred, use repellents containing lemon eucalyptus oil or citronella oil.
Taking preventative medicines
Some medications and vaccines to consider taking before traveling include:
Anti malarial medication may be taken to reduce the risk of contracting malaria. The choice of medication depends on the age, health and medical history of the traveler, the type and drug resistance status of the malaria parasites being dealt with, length of intended stay and local healthcare facilities.
2. Yellow fever
Vaccination against yellow fever is required for all travelers older than one year of age, who are arriving from a yellow-fever-infected country in Africa, Central or South America. The vaccine is administered at an approved yellow fever vaccination clinic, which will give each recipient a yellow fever vaccination certificate.
3. Dengue fever
There is currently no vaccination available for dengue fever.
For a thorough travel health advice, information and vaccinations, see a travel doctor between 6-8 weeks before departure. This allows sufficient time for a course of vaccines to be administered if need be.
If you become unwell with any of the following symptoms in the two weeks after you return from travel, see your doctor as soon as possible:
- Unexplained skin rashes or lesions
- Persistent vomiting
- Persistent diarrhea
- Unusual bleeding from the eyes, ears, nose, mouth or anus
- Swollen glands in your armpits or neck
- Prolonged loss of consciousness (not caused by consumption of alcohol, drugs or medications
- Persistent coughing or difficulty breathing
Most diseases acquired by travelers are not serious. But it is important to diagnose a serious infectious disease as soon as possible, to allow early treatment and quarantine.
If you do get bitten by mosquitoes, the objective then changes from repelling to treating the itch and inflammation caused by the bite.
Fortunately, many herbs and other natural agents are soothing to the skin, and many have anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties.
So, for treating mosquito bites when your preventative measures fail, use one or all of the following on the affected area:
- Neem oil
- Aloe vera gel
- Crushed leaves of basil or basil oil
- Tea tree oil
- Cooled tea bags
- Cucumber pieces
- Ice wrapped in soft cloth or running cold water
- Lemon or lime juice
- Apple cider vinegar
- Raw honey
Remember there are many more harmless mosquitoes than there are disease carriers. So just do your best and enjoy your vacation.