Travel Insurance & Safety

How to Stay Safe From Mosquito-borne Diseases When You're Travelling

There’s an African proverb that says, “If you think you’re too small to make a difference, you haven’t spent a night with a mosquito!” Not only is this rather inspiring when it comes to self-belief, but it’s also a potent reminder that mosquitoes can be much more than a minor disturbance!

In order to breed, female mosquitos need to have a meal of blood – which is why you’ll often hear the buzz of one around your head when you’re trying to sleep somewhere that is relatively humid. As well as causing an itchy bite, mosquitoes can carry and spread infectious diseases such as malaria, dengue, West Nile, yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis, Zika and chikungunya. In fact, mosquitos kill just over 700 000 people annually – more than any other creature in the world.

If you’re in an area where mosquito-borne diseases exist – particularly near the tropics – it’s important to try and avoid getting bitten as much as you can. In some instances, there are also certain medications (malaria prophylaxis) you can take to reduce the risk of getting infected if you do get bitten.

We’ve compiled a bunch of handy tips to help you safeguard yourself against mosquitos when you’re travelling.

Photo by Sebastian Pichler

Before you head off

  • Do some research to find out which mosquito-borne diseases are present in the destinations you’ll be visiting. For instance, malaria is found in parts of Africa, Central and South America, South and Southeast Asia and the Pacific. Yellow fever occurs in parts of tropical South America and sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Mosquitoes need to be near water to breed, and are more active in the wet season.
  • Make an appointment with your doctor six to eight weeks before you leave to work out what vaccinations you might need and get some specialist advice on disease prevention. You can get vaccinations that will help prevent Japanese Encephalitis, which is recommended if you’re staying in a high-risk area for longer than a month. You can also get vaxxed against Yellow Fever; in fact, many countries require travellers to have a valid International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis (ICVP) in order to enter, even if you’re just in transit. Ensure you get jabbed at least two weeks before you depart!
  • There are several types  of anti-malarial medication that you can take to help prevent you from contracting the disease, some of which you need to keep taking for a while once you’ve returned home. Ask your doc which one is best suited to your specific needs.
  • If possible, people who are pregnant should avoid travel to areas with a high risk of Zika virus – as it can be transmitted to the foetus and can cause birth defects.
Photo by Drew Farwell 

While you’re travelling

  • Insect repellent is your friend! Ones that work best contain Diethyl Toluamide – more commonly known as DEET – or Picaridin. Para Menthane Diol (PMD) and Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (OLE) are also effective. When you’re somewhere that you have to apply sunscreen and insect repellent, slip slop slap the sunscreen on first.
  • When you’re hiking or out in the forest, use insecticide-treated gear (Permethrin is great for this, and can survive multiple washes) – such as boots, tents and clothing.
  • If possible, choose accommodation that has screens on the windows. If you can’t stop those pesky mozzies coming into your room at night, use a mosquito net – something that savvy travellers should always have in their suitcase. Be aware that the kind of mosquitoes that transmit malaria tend to be most active at dawn and dusk, and into the evening.
  • Mosquito repellent incense coils or candles can be burnt to keep mozzies away
  • When you’re outside, wear light coloured clothing with long sleeves and long pants. Mozzies love dark clothing!
  • Perfume and strong fragrances can attract mosquitoes, so just go au naturale!

Mosquito-borne diseases range from mild to severe – and can be fatal. If you develop high fevers and flu-like symptoms while you’re travelling, or even soon after you get back home, immediately seek medical attention for accurate diagnosis and management.

Material on this webpage is provided for informational purposes only and is correct at the time of writing on 10 May 2023 but may change at any time or from time to time. It is general information only and any discussion about medicine, health and related subjects may not apply to you as an individual and is not a substitute for your own doctor’s medical care or advice. The words and other content provided on this website, and in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice. If the reader or any other person has a medical concern, they should consult with an appropriately licensed physician or other health care worker. Nothing contained on the website is intended to establish a physician-patient relationship, to replace the services of a trained physician or health care professional, or otherwise to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The views and opinions expressed on this website have no relation to those of any academic, hospital, practice, or other institution with which the authors are affiliated. Never disregard medical advice or delay seeking medical care because of something you have read on or accessed through this website. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or emergency services immediately.

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