Learn About Insect Precautions

Insects have a remarkable ability to adapt, and they can reproduce in almost any environment.  Insects can act as simple carriers of bacteria, viruses or parasites, or they can serve as part of the life cycle for certain organisms.   In addition to bites and bumps, insects are responsible for spreading a wide variety of diseases, including Malaria, Dengue Fever, chikungunya fever, Japanese B encephalitis, TBE, and Yellow Fever.  For some of these diseases, vaccinations or prophylactic medicine exist, for others you need to make sure you take appropriate precautions when traveling in infected areas.                       

INSECT REPELLENTS

The most effective repellent ingredient against mosquitoes, chiggers, ticks, fleas and biting flies is the chemical commonly known as DEET.  It is an ingredient in many commercially sold products.  Always read the label carefully and use the lowest effective concentration (no more than 30 – 35 %) for teenagers and adults.   Be cautious with use in children and infants; use appropriate DEET concentrations as indicated for age.   

No matter what type of repellent you choose, wear shoes, socks, long pants and long-sleeved shirts if weather permits, especially if you will be outdoors between dusk and dawn when many types of mosquitoes are active.  Apply repellent sparingly to exposed skin only, avoiding any areas likely to have contact with eyes or mouth.  (Use insect repellent 15 minutes after sunscreen application.)  When not at risk, please wash off repellent especially for infants and children.

INSECTICIDES (Not available in Canada)

Permethrin is a synthetic version of chemicals found in plants of the chrysanthemum family.  When applied correctly and allowed to dry thoroughly, it is considered a very safe and effective way to kill mosquitoes, flies, ticks, chiggers and gnats.  Permethrin is available in many forms for soaking or spraying clothing, window screens, bed netting and other fabrics.  Never apply to skin.  You can also buy clothing and other products such as mosquito nets that have already been treated.  Check product instructions for details.

RISKS

Wherever your travels take you, find out about the risk of illness or disease caused by the native insect life.  Your disease risk will vary depending on many factors including:  countries visited; climate and geography; time of the year; city versus rural stay; length of travel; general state of health; and preventive behaviours such as use of mosquito nets for example.

PERSONAL PROTECTION

There is a great deal you can do to avoid infection by insects.  The following tips will help you remember the essentials.

Do:

  • Take advantage of preventive medication against Malaria and vaccines against insect-borne illnesses
  • Use repellents containing 30% DEET during the day and night.  Apply on exposed skin only and apply 15-20 minutes after applying sunscreen during the day.
  • Treat clothing, window screens, bed netting and other fabrics with permethrin.
  • Sleep in air-conditioned rooms or use impregnated mosquito nets.  Remember to inspect the netting to ensure there are no rips or tears and keep excess net material tucked under the mattress before nightfall (to see if any insects especially mosquitoes are not trapped under the net).
  • Burn mosquito / insect coils during the evening
  • Use unscented soaps, shampoos and deodorants.  Don’t wear cologne or scents.
  • Dress in pale colours, covering as much skin as possible.  Don’t wear jewelry or bright colours as this attracts insects
  • Wear shoes (not sandals) and socks.  Don’t walk in bare feet – many bugs live on or near the ground.
  • Use a blanket or chair before sitting directly on sand or ground.  Perform a full-body check for embedded insects such as ticks every day.
  • Learn about insect feeding habits in the region you are visiting.  If there are insects that carry dangerous illnesses, try to perform most of your outdoor activities when and where they are least active and be especially careful about following insect precautions.