Mosquito borne illnesses are on the rise, with the most recent data showing a huge increase in malaria cases reported in the United States. Almost all of these cases were acquired overseas in regions with active malaria transmission. But malaria isn’t the only illness to worry about. Depending on your travel destination you may also have to contend with Dengue fever, Chikungunya, Japanese encephalitis, Rift Valley Fever, West Nile virus, or Yellow Fever.
Practicing good insect bite prevention is the best way to keep yourself healthy. If you don’t get bitten, you can’t get sick. It’s as simple as that. Use a good insect repellent which contains DEET, picaridin, or IR3535. Always follow the directions on the bottle and reapply as directed. When applying repellent to children, make sure to avoid their hands, around their eyes, and cut or irritated skin. Apply to your own hands first and then put on the child. Make sure to wash the child’s treated skin as soon as returning indoors. DEET products should not be used on children under 2 months of age. Do not use a sunscreen/insect repellent combination as you will need to reapply your sunscreen more often than the repellent.
You can also treat your clothing with permethrin or purchase pretreated clothing. Treated clothing remains protective after multiple washings which is great when traveling. A few other simple tips to keep in mind include limiting time outdoors during dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active, using mosquito bed netting or sleeping in screened or air conditioned accommodations, and covering exposed skin by wearing long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and hats.
Luckily, there are vaccines or preventative medications available for some of these illnesses. Yellow Fever and Japanese Encephalitis both have vaccines that can be given at pre-travel consultations with your physician. Multiple prescription drugs are available that can be taken for malaria prophylaxis. The majority of travelers that contract malaria either do not take an antimalarial drug, or do not take the appropriate drug/dose. It is important to check with your physician a few months in advance of your travel to determine if any of these vaccines are needed, or if you need to take malaria prophylaxis.
So, what’s the bottom line? Know the diseases prevalent in the area to which you are traveling. If appropriate, visit a travel physician for vaccines and antimalarial medications. Lastly, but just as important, always use good insect bite protection. Hopefully but following this quick tips you can ensure yourself healthy, mosquito free travels!