Twelve tips for avoiding mosquitos–and the serious diseases they carry

Anne & Jack in Botswana

The Australians call them ‘mozzies’–such a cute name–as though mosquitoes were just pesky little creatures that buzz and bite, one of the minor annoyances of venturing off the beaten track. I used to think of them that way, too, until I started traveling to the tropics and meeting people who’d had malaria, dengue fever (its other name–breakbone fever–gives an idea of the pain involved), Japanese encephalitis and its offshoot, West Nile virus.

These diseases are bad news for even the healthiest of travelers. The stakes are even higher for me, an autoimmune patient who takes high level of blood thinning Coumadin.

I’m heading to Bali in September. My trip preparation always included checking with my travel clinic and consulting the CDC to assess the health risks. I learned that there is no malaria on Bali but there is degue fever. There is no prophylaxis other than insect bite prevention. I also learned that dengue-carrying mosquitoes are active during the day, unlike malarial mosquitoes, which usually bit during the dawn/dusk hours.

I’ll need to be extra vigilant about mosquito bite prevention.  Here are the strategies I’ll use.

Twelve Tips  to Prevent Mosquito Bites:

  1. I don’t mess around with mosquitoes in the tropics. I carry (and use) strong insect repellent.  My personal choice is Repel sportsmen formula with 29% deet, which meets the CDC recommendation of at least 25% DEET. It’s widely available in lotion, pump, or spray. I personally prefer the spray in small containers that are easy to carry in my purse and daybag so I always have it handy.
  2. Other options include: Ultrathon (recommened by my traveldoc), a 12-hour repellent (33% DEET) lotion) and Jungle Juice – 98% deet – available in a pump spray at REI
  3. For extra prevention, I use Permethrin clothing spray(also recommended by my travel doc).  It comes in a spray-on formula that lasts for two weeks.  It’s used to treat your clothes before you leave home.  It doesn’t harm the clothes, though I’ve usually only treated casual and outdoor outfits
  4. Long pants and long sleeve shirts are another way to prevent bites and protect from sunburn.  I have several ultra-lite weight “jungle pants” and hiking shirts. Columbia “Bug Shield” and Ex-Officio “Buzz Off” brands are made to be lightweight and insect repellent.
  5. Insect repellant bandanas are offered by Ex-Officio (Insect Shield, Bugs-Away and Buzz-Off. (The Buzz-off bandana is a bit big and hot for my taste)
  6. Everyone traveling in the tropics should sleep under a mosquito net. Many hotels provide them. Be sure to use them (and make sure they are properly closed).  If you’re camping or staying in hotels which may not provide nets, consider taking your own. REI has a selection of lightweight travel nets.
  7.  Wear light colored clothing (mosquitoes are attracted to dark clothing).
  8. Switch to all unscented products to avoid becoming mosquito bait. Mosquitoes are attracted to floral and fruity scents. Never use perfume or cologne. But that’s not enough: also avoid perfumed shampoos, hand creams, soaps, etc.
  9. Sweat attracts mosquitoes, so do the best you can to keep cool and dried off. (Here’s where the bandana may come in handy.) If you’re going to be outside, consider a shower (or at least reapplication of mosquito repellant) after exercising.
  10. Foods high in salt or potassium produce lactic acid, which attracts mosquitoes.  So leave the bananas and pretzels behind on your outdoor picnic.
  11. If you do get bitten (and you probably will), don’t panic and don’t let worry ruin your trip. There are many more harmless mosquitoes than disease carriers. Just reach for the itch medicine and hope for the best. My favorite is After Bite Itch Eraser. Another is Benadryl crème. For more options see: 40 Mosquito Bite Itch Relief Tips
  12. If you do develop symptoms (fever, chills, sweats, headache, nausea, backache, painful joints) don’t delay: seek treatment immediately.