Knowing how to avoid mosquito bites in Asia's tropical climates is essential. Not only are itchy bites dreadfully annoying, nothing can ruin a nice trip to Asia like a bout with dengue fever or malaria.
While your chances of contracting something serious are low, even small mosquito bites can quickly become infected in humid and dirty environments.
First, learn a little about the bloodsuckers, then read on for tips on how to avoid mosquito bites.
Meet the Enemy
While travelers concerned about safety in Asia probably worry more about poisonous snakes and ill-tempered animals like Indonesia's Komodo dragons, the real threat comes in a much smaller package. With their capability to carry dengue, malaria, and encephalitis, the World Health Organization has declared mosquitoes to be the deadliest creatures on earth.
Snakebite only claims an estimated 20,000 victims per year, while malaria kills more than one million people annually. Dengue fever, while completely 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 over women.
- Overweight people are at a greater risk for mosquito bites.
- Mosquitoes can smell your emitted carbon dioxide 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 mosquito is two weeks.
How to Avoid Mosquito Bites
- Low-energy mosquitoes in Southeast Asia stay close to the ground; they tend to bite feet and legs under tables while you eat. Use repellent on your legs and feet before dinner.
- Mosquitoes are attracted to bright clothing. Stick to earth tones or khaki clothing when trekking in Southeast Asia.
- Avoid sweet-smelling soaps, shampoos, and lotions in high-risk areas; remember, mosquitoes prefer to feed on flowers when not reproducing, so don't smell like one!
- Dusk is the time of day when you are most likely to be bitten; cover yourself before enjoying that sunset!
- Studies show that mosquitoes are attracted to body odor and sweat. Staying clean -- without smelling too inviting -- will help to attract less mosquitoes; doing so may even keep your travel mates happier.
- Reapply DEET to exposed skin at least every three hours for maximum effect.
- When checking into accommodation, close your bathroom door, spray holes found in vents and nets with DEET, and turn over any buckets or stagnant water sources outside.
- Turn your lights off -- both inside and outside -- before leaving; the heat and light will attract additional mosquitoes.
- 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 -- a powder derived from chrysanthemum plants -- whenever sitting outside for prolonged periods.
Dengue Fever in Asia
With a severe resurgence, Southeast Asia was recently declared the area with the greatest risk for Dengue fever. The virus has spread from only nine countries to more than 100 countries in the last 40 years; Dengue fever has even been making appearances in Florida since 2009 -- the first cases in the US in more than 70 years.
Mosquito bites are responsible for an estimated 50 million cases of dengue fever per year. Undoubtedly, many more cases go undocumented in remote parts of Asia. 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.
Dengue fever is transmitted mainly by the A. aegypti species of mosquitoes which typically appear as spotted or 'tiger' mosquitoes during the daytime.
No vaccination or preventative exists for dengue fever; your best bet is simply knowing how to avoid mosquito bites in the first place. Dengue fever is just another good reason why you should get travel insurance before you leave home.
- Learn to avoid these five common threats to your health while traveling.
- Mosquitoes are one of the 10 threats to your safety while trekking in Asia.
Is DEET Safe?
DEET, developed by the US Army, is short for N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide; and yes, the chemical is as harsh as it sounds. While 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 US, while Canada and many other countries have regulations preventing anything above 30%.
Interestingly, higher concentrations of DEET are no more effective for avoiding mosquito bites than lower mixtures. The difference is that higher concentrations (50% or more) provide longer lasting 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.
On adventures such as trekking active volcanoes in Indonesia, travelers are often forced to wear both DEET and sunscreen. Always apply DEET first, then sunscreen next. Otherwise, DEET lowers the effectiveness of your sun protection.
- Read more about protecting yourself from the sun.