Knowing how to avoid mosquito bites in Asia is essential. Not only are the itchy bites dreadfully annoying, dengue fever -- a mosquito-borne sickness -- is a serious problem throughout Asia, particularly in Southeast Asia.
Although your chances of contracting something serious such as malaria are low, even small mosquito bites can quickly become infected in humid and dirty environments. Don't scratch!
Fortunately, the Zika virus isn't a real problem in Asia yet, but these 10 tips will help you to avoid getting bitten in the first place.
- Learn how to handle these five travel emergencies that sometimes strike.
Meet the Enemy
While travelers concerned about safety in Asia probably worry more about poisonous snakes and ill-tempered animals such as monkeys, the real threat comes from a much smaller, often unseen creature: the mosquito. With their capability to transmit dengue, Zika, malaria, yellow fever, Chikungunya, West Nile, and encephalitis, the World Health Organization has declared mosquitoes to be the deadliest creatures on earth.
Snakebite only claims an estimated 11,000 victims per year through the whole of Asia, meanwhile malaria killed an estimated 438,000 people in 2015. Dengue fever, although typically survivable, will put you under the weather for a month or longer. Learning how to avoid mosquito bites will lower the chances that you come home with an unwanted souvenir in your bloodstream.
Little-Known Facts About Mosquitoes
- Only female mosquitoes bite when they want to reproduce. The males survive on flower nectar.
- Studies show that mosquitoes prefer to bite men rather than women.
- Pregnant women are more often bitten because of their increased carbon dioxide output.
- Overweight people are at a greater risk for mosquito bites.
- Mosquitoes can smell carbon dioxide emitted from your body from over 75 feet away.
- Daytime mosquitoes are more likely to carry dengue fever, while nighttime mosquitoes carry malaria.
- The average lifespan of a dengue-carrying Aedes aegypti mosquito is from two to four weeks.
- A 2013 study concluded that mosquitoes bite people with type "O" blood 83% more often.
- Genetics account for 85% of the reason mosquitoes may prefer you instead of another nearby victim.
- Mosquitoes can smell lactic acid in sweat and are drawn to bite.
10 Tips for How to Avoid Mosquito Bites
- The Low-energy mosquitoes in Southeast Asia often remain close to the ground; they tend to bite feet and legs under tables where they go unnoticed. Always use repellent on at least your legs and feet before going for dinner.
- Mosquitoes are attracted to brightly colored clothing. Stick to earth tones or khaki clothing when trekking in Southeast Asia. The best protection is always to cover exposed skin rather than spraying it with chemicals.
- Avoid sweet-smelling soaps, shampoos, and lotions in high-risk areas; remember, mosquitoes prefer to feed on flowers when not reproducing, so try not to smell like one!
- Dusk and dawn are the times of day when you are most likely to be bitten by an Aedes aegypti (the ones that transmit dengue fever) mosquito; cover yourself before enjoying that sunset cocktail!
- Studies show that mosquitoes are attracted to chemicals excreted in sweat. Staying as clean as possible -- without smelling too inviting -- will help to attract less mosquitoes. Staying clean also helps keep your travel mates happier.
- Reapply DEET to exposed skin at least every three hours for maximum effect. Apply more often if you are sweating a lot. If you need to use both DEET and sunscreen, apply the DEET first, allow it to dry, and then apply sunscreen. Products containing both are often not as effective.
- When first checking into your accommodation, close your bathroom door, spray holes found in vents and nets with DEET, and turn over any buckets or stagnant water sources outside. Make it a habit to keep your door closed.
- Turn your lights off -- both inside and outside -- before leaving; the heat and light will attract additional insects.
- If you have one, use the mosquito net above your bed. Tuck in corners to keep the net secured, and spray any holes you find with repellent.
- Burn mosquito coils -- made from a powder derived from chrysanthemum plants -- whenever sitting outside for prolonged periods. Never burn coils inside enclosed spaces! Burning incense sticks will also offer some protection.
Dengue Fever in Asia
Southeast Asia was declared by the WHO as the area with the greatest risk for contracting dengue fever. Instances of the virus is on the rise; dengue has spread from only nine countries to more than 100 countries in the last 40 years. Dengue fever even began making appearances in Florida in 2009 -- the first cases seen in the U.S. in more than 70 years.
Note: Singapore is an exception; most of the island is sprayed to control mosquito populations and keep dengue in check.
Dengue fever is transmitted by the A. aegypti species or "tiger" mosquitoes (with black and white stripes) that often bite during the daytime. Simply put: you can't get dengue fever unless bitten by a mosquito that is carrying the virus.
No one knows for sure how many people get dengue fever every year; cases often happen in rural places or go unreported. A conservative estimate is that at least 50 million people contract dengue from a mosquito bite each year, while some experts believe as many as 500 million people may become infected annually. Dengue is thought to cause around 20,000 deaths per year.
Undoubtedly, many cases go undocumented in remote parts of Asia where medical treatment isn't accessible. Dengue fever takes around a week to incubate after you are bitten, then emerges in the form of a measle-like rash followed by a fever and lack of energy. Victims react differently to the five types of dengue fever. Infected travelers report feeling ill for between one to four weeks, depending on the strain.
A much anticipated vaccine for dengue is in trials in a few countries, however, it is not widely available yet. Your best bet for staying safe in Asia is simply knowing how to avoid mosquito bites in the first place. Dengue fever is also another good reason why you should get travel insurance before you leave home.
- Mosquitoes are one of the 10 threats to your safety while trekking in Asia.
Is DEET Safe?
DEET, developed by the U.S. Army, is short for N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide; and yes, the chemical is as harsh as it sounds. Although natural DEET alternatives such as citronella are available, DEET unfortunately remains the most effective choice to avoid mosquito bites. Concentrations of up to 100% can be purchased in the U.S., while Canada and many other countries have regulations preventing products above 30%.
Interestingly, higher concentrations of DEET are no more effective for avoiding mosquito bites than lower concentrations. Products with higher concentrations simply last a little longer if you are sweating. Spraying excessive amounts of DEET onto skin does not increase protection.
The safest way to use DEET, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is to apply a repellent containing between 30 – 50% DEET every three hours.
- Never use DEET on your hands or face as it inevitably will end up in your eyes.
- Do not use DEET under clothing.
- Do not apply DEET on broken skin (including infected mosquito bites, cuts, scrapes, etc).
During big adventures such as trekking in remote areas, travelers are often forced to wear both DEET and sunscreen. Always apply DEET first, then sunscreen after. DEET will reduce the effectiveness of our sunscreen.