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Mosquito Bites and Insect Repellents: What you need to know.

Mosquito_Tasmania_cropMosquitoes transmit diseases that kill as many as 750,000 people a year. The best way to prevent most mosquito-borne diseases is to avoid mosquito bites.

For some mosquito-borne diseases, such as malaria, an antimalarial drug is generally recommended.

For other mosquito-borne diseases, such as West Nile, dengue, and chikungunya, no vaccines are available to prevent disease and no drugs are available for treatment. Therefore, preventing infective mosquito bites, primarily through use of insect repellents, is the best way to prevent infection.

However, a majority of travellers do not regularly use insect repellents as recommended. Fears about the safety and smell of repellents are common barriers, as is the inappropriate timing of application or irregular use of products. Therefore, it is vital that travellers likely to be exposed to infective mosquitoes understand which mosquito-borne diseases are common in the area they are traveling to and;

  • When mosquitoes are most actively biting (daytime vs from dusk to dawn); and
  • How to select and properly apply an effective insect repellent to themselves and their children.

Products containing the following four compounds provide hours of protection against disease-carrying mosquitoes, can be applied to skin and clothing, and are more reliable options than natural product repellents

  • DEET; Any product that melts plastic seems to me not to be a very attractive prospect! However, it is effective for its purpose.  There are many products with different concentrations of DEET.
  • IR3535; There is some doubt about its effectiveness.
  • Oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) or PMD (the abbreviated name for the synthesized version of OLE).  This is environmentally friendly but needs more frequent application.
  • Picaridin (KBR 3023). This is WHO recommended, needs to be applied 6-8 hourly – and doesn’t dissolve plastics and fibres! Just a difficult name to remember.

Before applying a repellent read the label.

Basic safety issues when applying a repellent:

  • Apply repellents only to exposed skin and/or clothing.
  • Do not use under clothing.
  • Do not apply near eyes and mouth, and apply sparingly around ears.
  • When using sprays, do not spray directly into face; spray on hands first and then apply to face.
  • Never use repellents over cuts, wounds, or irritated skin.
  • Do not spray in enclosed areas.
  • Avoid breathing a spray product.
  • Do not use near food.
  • After returning indoors, wash treated skin and clothes with soap and water.
  • Store insect repellents safely out of the reach of children, in a locked utility cabinet or garden shed.

Education for parents:

  • Before an insect repellent is applied to a child, the label should be carefully read for directions.
  • Insect repellents should not be sprayed directly on a child.
  • An adult should put a small amount of insect repellent in their hands and then apply on the child’s skin not covered by clothing.
  • Insect repellent should never be applied on the child’s hands.
  • After returning indoors, the child’s treated skin and clothes should be washed with soap and water or the child can bathe.
  • Insect repellents should not be applied to children younger than 2 months of age. They should instead be protected from mosquitos by draping their infant carrier with fitted mosquito netting.
  • Lower concentrations of DEET (no more than 30%) on children.
  • Products containing lemon eucalyptus should not be used on children under the age of 3 years – this is still debated as some recommend it for use as low as aged 3 months!
  • If a suspected reaction to an insect repellent occurs, such as a rash, the parents should stop using the insect repellent and wash the area with soap and water.
  • If medical evaluation of the reaction is sought, instruct the person to bring the insect repellent container to the doctor.

Additional measures to prevent mosquito bites include wearing a long-sleeved shirt, long trousers, and a hat when outdoors, and sleeping in a well-screened or air-conditioned room, or under an insecticide-treated bed net, especially in areas where malaria transmission occurs, because these mosquitoes bite mostly at night (dusk until dawn). So coils, nets and clothing are all effective protection. And enjoy your holidays – prevention of bites is key.

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