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December 1, 2015

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Adventurous travel requires personal protection from mosquitoes

By Kathy Butler, MLS

Science and Psychology Librarian


Aedes aegypti mosquito (CDC)

As temperatures drop at home, travel plans heat up around sunny tropical getaways. Winter-break travelers need to keep in mind that warm weather is prime mosquito-breeding temperature and there are no vaccines or cures for many of the illnesses spread by mosquito bites. Protection from bug bites when traveling is as important as protection from ticks and mosquitoes bites during the bug season at home.

The word “chikungunya” is Makonde for "that which bends up", and describes the painful posture of virus victims

Besides the familiar diseases of West Nile virus, malaria and dengue fever, an emerging disease is prompting travel medicine professionals to issue new warnings.  Chikungunya<> (chik-en-gun-ye) is a mosquito transmitted disease similar to dengue. Both chikungunya and dengue are transmitted by the same mosquitoes. In chikungunya, symptoms begin 3-7 days after the bite and include fever and severe joint pains. The word “chikungunya” is Makonde for "that which bends up", and describes the painful posture of virus victims. In some cases, the joint swelling and muscle pain can last for months. Dengue fever symptoms can take a week to develop and patients may show signs of bleeding and intense abdominal pain. There are no preventive vaccines for dengue or chikungunya, so prevention of mosquito bites is recommended.

Travelers who go to tropical and subtropical areas are at risk for mosquito transmitted diseases. Dengue fever is endemic in 100 countries and outbreaks have been reported in the same areas identified as hot sports for chikungunya, including South America, Central American and Caribbean Islands. Almost all cases of chikungunya and dengue reported in the United States are in travelers who contract the viruses outside the United States. In 2014, over 2000 cases of chikungunya in the United States were diagnosed in returning travelers.

DEET will repel (not kill) mosquitoes and ticks

The best way to protect yourself from mosquito bites is to apply an insect repellent with DEET. DEET will repel (not kill) mosquitoes and ticks. Using up to 30% concentration of DEET is safe for adults, children and infants older than two months. Other repellents include concentrations of picaridin or lemon eucalyptus oil or IR3535. A pump-spray bottle of 3.4 ounces of repellent can be packed in carry-on bags, but for travel, consider packing towelettes treated with the repellent. Apply repellent after sunscreen and reapply as directed on package.

Other protective measures:

  *   Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants and socks as much as possible
  *   Wear clothing pre-treated with permethrin
  *   Stay in accommodations that are air conditioned or well screened

More information on chikungunya, dengue and other mosquito transmitted diseases can be found at the Centers for Disease Control website (<>).


Distribution of dengue in the Americas and the Caribbean (CDC)

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