Staying Safe From Mosquitoes: Your Next Big Travel Enemy

woman standing at the airport

If you’re just starting to see the appeal in camping in the woods, especially in the tropics, the pandemic had surely soured your mood. It ruined your travel plans after all, and until now, a year later, you’ve barely seen any changes. Summer is approaching in the tropics again, and you’re still stuck at home. You could’ve been exploring the rainforests, meeting new people, and encountering exotic wildlife.

But when the threat of COVID-19 is over, don’t let your guard down immediately. Once you set foot in the tropics, or in any other country when the weather is hot and humid, another threat awaits — and it could be deadlier than any virus.

Over a hundred countries in the world are plagued by malaria-carrying mosquitoes. Dengue fever, another mosquito-borne disease, is also endemic in many tropical countries in Asia and South America. Though both malaria and dengue have never been widespread enough to cause a pandemic, their outbreaks can be pretty severe. And they kill tens of thousands of people every year.

The mosquito control measures in your country may be excellent, but some countries may still be using old-fashioned methods, especially in their rural areas. Not that old-fashioned methods are ineffective, but their impacts may not be as far-reaching.

That said, take note of these pointers before traveling to a mosquito-populated country:

1. Know The Countries With the Highest Cases of Malaria and Dengue

Malaria and dengue fever aren’t the only deadly mosquito-borne diseases, but they tend to cause outbreaks most often. As per the World malaria report, there were 229 million malaria cases in 2019, a one million increase from 228 million, which was the number of cases in 2018. The estimated number of deaths in 2019 was 409,000, a slight decrease from 2018’s 411,000.

African regions had the highest share of malaria burden. In 2019, 94% of all malaria cases and deaths occurred within the continent.

The places with the highest risk for malaria are:

  • Large areas of Africa and Asia
  • Central and South America
  • Haiti
  • Dominican Republic
  • Parts of the Middle East
  • Some Pacific islands

As for dengue fever, the illness continues to affect several countries in 2020. The highest number of global cases were seen in 2019. The U.S. was among the countries hit, with 3.1 million cases, 25,000 of them classified as severe. High cases were also recorded in Bangladesh (101,000), Malaysia (131,000), Vietnam (320,000), and the Philippines (420,000).

Other countries with the highest dengue fever risks are:

  • Singapore
  • India
  • Sri Lanka
  • Maldives
  • Yemen
  • Indonesia
  • Thailand
  • Sudan
  • Timor Leste
  • Brazil
  • Ecuador
  • Cook Islands
  • Mayotte, France
  • Mauritania

If any of those countries are on your backpacking bucket list, don’t forget to pack your insect repellent!

2. Bring Anti-Malarial Drugs

You can also take anti-malarial drugs in addition to applying insect repellent. Take the drugs before leaving, during your travel, and for some time after arriving back home. Note that some malaria strains are resistant to drugs, so you shouldn’t skip the insect repellent after taking your meds.

3. Prevent Bites

spraying mosquito repellent

It’s impossible to avoid mosquito bites completely, but the fewer bites you get, the lower your risk for an illness will be. Plus, the effect of insect repellents also wears off after a certain number of hours.

To increase your defense, stay somewhere that has an A/C and screened-off windows and doors. If you’re camping or lodging in a cabin without A/C, sleep under an intact mosquito net. Pack a spray variety of insect repellent as well, so that you can spritz it on your surroundings.

You may want to wear shorts and a tank top because of the weather, but exposing your skin makes you more vulnerable. To protect yourself without feeling sticky beneath your clothes, wear loose-fitting trousers, and breathable long-sleeved shirts. Mosquitoes feed during the early evening and at night, so defend yourself the most if you’d be out on those times.

4. Prevent Zika Virus

If you’re traveling with a pregnant woman, a mosquito bite can infect them with the Zika virus. That virus is linked to babies with microcephaly and other birth defects. Men can also carry the virus and transmit it sexually. So if you’re a guy, you should exercise prevention as well.

The virus is originally found in Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands, but after 2015, it has spread into the following countries:

  • The U.S.
  • Brazil
  • Caribbean Islands
  • Mexico
  • Puerto Rico
  • Parts of Central America, North America, and South America

Preventing insect bites is also a way to shield yourself against the Zika virus. Also, the Zika-carrying mosquitoes feed during the day, unlike Malaria-carrying mosquitoes. So protect yourself at all times.

Paranoia may be the last thing you’ll pack on your travels, but a healthy dose of it is necessary. Remember, fun and daring are only worth it if you don’t return home with an infectious disease.

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