Five Mosquito-Transmitted Diseases Every Traveler Needs to Know

Zika is not the only threat facing international travelers

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At the beginning of 2016, many travelers were alerted by the Zika virus outbreak in Brazil, causing international alarm and questions about canceling trips. Although the threat of Zika is a concern, travelers should be much more concerned about the common vector that contributes to the spread of the virus.

Mosquitos are much more than a nuisance for international travelers. With the discomfort of a mosquito bite comes the potential for contracting an exotic disease.

When traveling abroad, it pays to be smart and aware of all the potential diseases a mosquito can transmit. Here are five diseases often carried by mosquitoes.

Zika Virus: problematic in 34 countries

The Zika outbreak became one of the first widely reported pandemics in 2016, affecting travelers primarily traveling to Central and South America. According to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately one in five people who are bit by an active mosquito will actually develop full-blown Zika.

Should a traveler develop Zika, the CDC advises that symptoms include flu-like symptoms, along with a fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes. Although the Zika virus is not fatal, doctors at the CDC have linked the virus to pregnancy complications. Travelers who believe they may have Zika should consult a doctor.

Malaria: problematic around the world

Although Zika has received more headlines, malaria is a much bigger threat for travelers who are venturing to exotic destinations around the world.

According to the CDC, travelers visiting South America, Africa, and southern Asia are most at risk of contracting this disease.

Around the world, the World Health Organization estimates around 500,000 people die of malaria any given year. The CDC warns travelers should consider taking a drug regimen prior to departing to an area affected by malaria.

In addition, purchasing a travel insurance plan with medical coverage is a must prior to departure. If a traveler begins to develop symptoms which include fever, shaking chills, muscle aches, nausea, and vomiting, they should seek medical treatment immediately. 

Chikungunya: problematic across South America and countries along the Equator

While not as fatal as malaria, chikungunya is another viral infection spread by mosquitos that can result with a trip detour to a local hospital. The CDC reports chikungunya is often found in tropical destinations which include Brazil and the northern part of South America, Southeast Asia, and the Caribbean Islands. In 2014, the CDC issued a temporary watch for chikungunya in Tonga. 

Unlike Zika, the CDC reports most people who are bit by an infected mosquito will develop some symptoms of chikungunya within three to seven days. The most common symptoms to watch for include fever and joint pain, while others may also develop muscle aches, joint pains, and rash. Travelers who experience any of these symptoms during or after their trip should seek medical attention.

Dengue: problematic in South America and Southeast Asia

Sometimes confused with chikungunya, dengue is another viral infection spread primarily by mosquitoes.

According to data available on the CDC HealthMap, dengue is most problematic in southeastern Brazil, India, Malaysia, and the Philippines.  

The CDC advises the primary symptoms of dengue include fever, headache, pain behind the eyes, and pains in the muscles and joints. The symptoms may also be related to a more severe version of the disease, called dengue hemorrhagic fever (DHF). If DHF is not treated in time, then this virus can be fatal.

West Nile Virus: problematic across the United States

Finally, the most well-known viral disease spread by mosquitoes may be the West Nile Virus. According to the CDC, West Nile Virus has been in the United States since 1999, with the biggest risk areas found in Southern and Central California.

The CDC warns symptoms of West Nile Virus include fever, headache, body aches, rash, and nausea.

Although it is unlikely, West Nile Virus can turn into a neurological disease, including encephalitis and meningitis. Anyone concerned about their exposure to this virus should consult a physician.

While travelers should be concerned about Zika, other mosquito-transmitted viruses can also create problems and potentially put a traveler's life at risk. By understanding these diseases, international adventurers can prepare for the worst, and make sure they avoid these situations at all costs.

Ed. Note: The content contained on this page is not intended to be and does not constitute medical advice. Always seek the advice of a physician or another qualified health provider with any questions regarding a medical condition. For more information about medical content on About.com, see our Medical Review Board policies.