Blood-suckers out to get you

Just as we work to avoid invasions of insects around the home, so too should we consider how to give unwanted bugs a wide berth when we travel.

There are a number of hotspots, especially in Asia and Africa, where it is easy to contract a debilitating disease from being bitten by mosquitoes.

Research the countries you plan to travel to learn if there are risks from local insects. Then  chat to your GP a few weeks before your holiday to ask if you need a vaccination or some other medication to protect you from insect bites.

Remember to pack loose-fitting, light-coloured clothing to cover up most parts of your body, as well as a chemical-based insect repellent and a mosquito net.

Check that your travel insurance covers you for any medical attention you may require if you become sick overseas. Among the serious and potentially fatal diseases you could acquire if bitten by infected insects are:

Zika virus
Muscle and joint pain, rash, headache and a fever are characteristic of falling ill with the Zika virus.

There is no vaccine or cure for the virus. To protect yourself against it, avoid being near water-filled, man-made containers in urban areas, which are the breeding grounds of  mosquitoes.

Outbreaks of the disease have been reported in tropical regions in Africa, Asia, Pacific Ocean regions, Central America, the Caribbean and South America, particularly Brazil and Colombia.

Dengue fever
The mozzie that transmits Dengue fever breeds in containers filled with water in cities and towns across dozens of countries near the equator. It bites only during the day and, unfortunately, there is no vaccine for the disease.

It causes flu-like symptoms first time around. A second exposure to the disease can be fatal if the appropriate medical attention is not available.

Countries where the risk of infection are high include: Indonesia (Bali), Vietnam, Thailand and India. Other places where a risk exists include the north-east of Australia, most of South America, parts of Africa and Papua New Guinea.

Without treatment, this mosquito-transmitted disease can also be fatal. Generally, it produces flu-like symptoms, but in some people it can cause breathing difficulties or seizures.

In addition to being prevalent in the countries listed for Dengue fever, mosquitoes carrying this disease are also common in most of Africa and Asia.

Flu-like symptoms as well as nausea are typical of this mosquito-transmitted infection, which has been traditionally associated with travelling in Asia and Africa.

More recently, the disease has emerged in the Pacific and Indian Ocean regions, south-east Asia, the Caribbean, and even the United States.

Yellow fever
Fever, muscle pain, headaches and vomiting are common symptoms of the first stage of this illness. If it progresses to the second stage, jaundice and blood in the vomit can develop. Left untreated, this disease can be fatal.

Thankfully, there is a vaccination against yellow fever and only a limited countries where you are at risk of contracting it through mosquito bites in South and Central America and West and Central Africa.

Japanese encephalitis
While most people who contract this mosquito-borne disease will have mild symptoms, in some cases it can cause severe inflammation and infection of the brain leading to permanent damage.

In addition to Japan, other countries where this illness is prevalent include China, Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea and India.

Lyme’s disease
This illness is contracted after being bitten by a tick carrying the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi. The areas where there is a high risk of this happening include the north-east of the US, some areas of Europe including the UK and some parts of Asia.

Lyme’s disease is chronic and nasty. The first symptoms begin with a round rash, followed by fever, headaches, fatigue and joint pain.

Left untreated, the infection can spread throughout the body through the bloodstream and lead to long-term neurological symptoms.

Are you aware of any other diseases not listed here that are transmitted through insect bites? Have you ever fallen ill after an insect bite while overseas? If so, what was your experience and what advice do you have for other travellers?

Related articles:
Should you worry about Zika?
The travel vaccinations you need
What if you get sick overseas?

Written by YourLifeChoices Writers

YourLifeChoices' team of writers specialise in content that helps Australian over-50s make better decisions about wealth, health, travel and life. It's all in the name. For 22 years, we've been helping older Australians live their best lives.

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