Avoiding Mosquito-Borne Illness on Solo Travel. There are no completely effective means of avoiding mosquito-borne illnesses. Even with malaria pills taken diligently, they are not one hundred percent. Unfortunately, they are some of the best options travelers to the tropics have. Our only solution can be to take reasonable steps, and stay in touch with appropriate medical staff, and watch for public information in the media.
What do Zika, Dengue Fever and Malaria all have in common? Tourists may not be as familiar with Dengue Fever as with Ebola. They both are hemorrhagic. Fortunately, Dengue Fever has a much lower fatality rate. In any case, they Zika, Malaria and Dengue Fever all have one common characteristic. They are primarily transmitted by mosquitoes.
Not having medical training, like all fellow travelers I try to take reasonable precautions during my trips to remote, tropical destinations. Here are my five laymen’s tips.
Avoiding Mosquito-Borne Illness on Solo Travel:
Visit a travelers’ clinic several weeks before you leave home. This is especially important if you are going to the tropics. Even before the recent tragic Ebola and Zika outbreaks, I have always made this a practice.
- Many diseases we take for granted as eradicated in the US have appeared or re-appeared. One good example is polio as well as a dangerous form of tuberculosis.
Avoiding Mosquito-Borne Illness on Solo Travel:
Dodge mosquitoes at all costs. The reason? With more than fifty varieties, there is no way to tell which ones are carrying deadly diseases and which are not. As a result, when you see one headed your way, do your best impression of beachcombers in “Jaws III” making for safety!
- The first line of defense is to cover up as much as possible. Although this is especially true during the prime feeding hours, some mosquitoes “snack” all day. On safari in southern Africa, I enjoyed an elegant dinner outside each evening. It was strongly recommended that we wear long sleeves, long pants and socks.
- In hot weather it can be tempting to avoid this recommendation. Once traveling solo in Central America in a Dengue Fever zone, I watched my fellow hiker with amazement. She wore shorts and a halter top. She provided a veritable feast for feasting mosquitoes!
- In India, I have opted for the great (and beautiful) silk-like fabrics they sell in the markets. Besides providing some coverage from mosquitoes, they can help prevent sunburns. (Do remember that if you can see through it so can the sun!)
- In the Caribbean in a small guesthouse some time ago, I slept under a mosquito net. Modern hotels tend to be hermetically sealed with air-conditioning and may spray the grounds. However, even in a lovely five star Southeast Asia hotel, I was “serenaded” one late night by a marauding mosquito. The bottom line? They are wily beasts that can get in just about everywhere.
Avoiding Mosquito-Borne Illness on Solo Travel: Before Leaving Home:
Tip Three: Before you leave home, research carefully as to DEET and other products to keep mosquitoes away.
- Bear in mind your own skin’s sensitivity. I once purchased a mix with sun prevention and insect repellent. I am not sure how effective such combinations are in a serious mosquito-infestation. I tend to still get sunburned trying this method but am unusually photo-sensitive so this may not be typical.
- The past recommendation was to apply sunscreen first. Wait ten minutes before applying insect repellent. On the Internet today, I found that this recommendation may be changing.
Tip Four: Treat your clothes with Permethrin or other chemical deterrents.
- This is a little tricky. I dutifully bought a Permethrin spray via the Internet. Once I read the cautions, I was ready to run for cover. A key point was using the spray in a well-ventilated area. For me, that meant outside. In the dead of winter during rain or snow that didn’t work. To make matters worse, the clothes needed to dry or remain in a ventilated area for a period of time. With a New Year’s trip to Cambodia, how could this work?
Tip Five: Leave your high fashion at home. Buy pre-treated clothing.
- This worked well for me. I was surprised to find that there were some attractive, athletic-style options.
- They were fairly economical as well.
Having just picked up a prescription of malaria pills, I am rereading my own tips. I hope they will make it possible to dodge even the most ardent mosquito. We welcome your feedback and tips.
For more information: Go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Their site notes that mosquitoes are the primary means of transmission for Zika. Although it is well-known that it can be spread from a pregnant woman to her baby, it is less publicized that it can also be spread via sexual contact. Lastly, the CDC reported certain cases of transmissions in laboratories and were investigating Brazilian reports as to blood transfusions.
Spraying for mosquitoes is being undertaken in certain communities. The challenge? For example, the Mississippi State Department of Health reports that they have fifty different types of mosquitoes! They offer practical tips for homeowners. For example, they suggest not leaving water-filled containers inside (or apparently outside) the home. They point out that trash can also attract mosquitoes. That just shows that at home or abroad, we each need to keep up with the newest health alerts and public service announcements.