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Insect and tick bite avoidance

Some diseases spread by insect bites can be very serious, such as malaria and yellow fever. For some of these diseases, avoiding insect bites is the only way to prevent infection. Insect bites can also cause serious skin reactions.1,2

How can I avoid bites from mosquitoes and other flies?

Mosquitoes and other flies spread many diseases, including malaria, yellow fever, dengue, Japanese encephalitis, sleeping sickness, river blindness, leishmaniasis and the Zika virus.2

The following measures should be used both day and night to avoid mosquito and other fly bites:1,2

  • Wear loose-fitting clothes, such as long-sleeved clothing and trousers, that cover as much of the body as possible
  • Spray an appropriate insecticide or insect repellent on thin clothes and bare skin - follow the instructions carefully and if in doubt about correct usage, seek advice from a pharmacist.
  • If sleeping in an unscreened room or outside, use a mosquito net (these should have insecticide built into them)
  • When outdoors, burn mosquito coils and heat insecticide tablets to help keep mosquitoes away
  • Avoid unnecessary exposure to flies, such as living or staying near still pools of water, piles of rubbish or fast flowing water
  • If travelling to an area with tsetse flies, avoid wearing dark blue clothing

How can I avoid bites from bugs, ticks and fleas?

  • Ticks: Avoid areas of long grass, wear clothes that completely cover the legs and tuck trousers into socks. Spray insect repellent onto clothes and bare skin1
  • Fleas: these live in beds and bed clothes. Spray insecticides or insect-repellents onto clothes and bare skin1
  • Bugs: certain types of bug that can spread disease live in the walls and ceilings of mud and thatch houses in Central and South America. As they come out at night, avoid sleeping in these houses, or sleep away from the walls and use a mosquito net1,2
  • Repellents: Use an appropriate repellent or insecticide

How can insect repellents be used safely?

DEET (diethylmetatoluamide)-based repellents are the most effective, especially against mosquitoes, and have been used for over 50 years.1,2 Liquids and creams for the skin are available, as are sprays for clothes.

Insect repellents should be applied sparingly, not heavily, after sunscreen, should not be used on lips, eyes, cuts, wounds or irritated skin, and should be washed off when no longer needed. Always use insect repellent in line with the manufacturer's instructions and if in doubt, seek advice from a pharmacist. If you think you have had a reaction to the repellent, wash the skin immediately and seek medical attention.1,2

What insect-repelling methods do not work?

Methods that are not recommended for repelling insects include bath oil, citronella oil-based repellents, geranium oil, garlic oil, vitamins B12 and B1, yeast extract, electronic or ultrasonic buzzer devices and tea tree oil.2

How can insect bites be treated?

Use creams and antihistamines to help reduce swelling and itching, keep bites clean and dry, and use antiseptics and dressings to prevent infection.

You should always remove ticks as soon as possible, ideally with tweezers hooked around the mouthparts under the tick's body. The body of the tick should not be squeezed.

Where can I get further information?

Make sure you contact your GP or travel health practitioner in plenty of time before you travel to discuss the ways you can help to keep yourself healthy whilst away. You should try and contact them at least 4–6 weeks before your trip.

After your trip, you should contact your GP if you develop a fever or notice any other unusual symptoms.

Date of preparation: January 2019

SAGB.MIS.18.11.1845

References

  1. Fit For Travel. Insect bite avoidance. Available at: https://www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk/advice/general-travel-health-advice/insect-bite-avoidance. Accessed November 2018.
  2. Travel Health Pro. Insect and tick bite avoidance: https://travelhealthpro.org.uk/factsheet/38/insect-and-tick-bite-avoidance. Accessed November 2018.