Travel Tips for Avoiding Biting Beasties
Springtime and the insects are beginning to bite. A mosquito bite in the tropics could result in any number of diseases from malaria to dengue fever. Luckily a similar bite in Europe usually results in nothing more serious than an irritating, itchy spot. Some people, however, can produce a strong allergic reaction to insect bites and end up with very inflamed and swollen wounds. Bites can easily become infected especially if you can’t resist the urge to scratch. Some people seem to be especially attractive to biting insects- the exact reasons this are still not completely clear.
Scientists have identified a number of different cues which attract mosquitoes- including body heat, the carbon dioxide you breath out and even the odour of your feet! If you are prone to insect bites it’s worth taking some anti-histamine tablets with you, tablets tend to be more effective than anti-histamine creams at reducing the allergic reaction. Hydrocortisone creams may help reduce inflammation and swelling whilst calamine lotion, tea tree oil and tiger balm can help calm local irritation.
It’s not just mosquitoes which can give you a nasty bite- other insects such as sand-flies, midges and black-flies can also leave you scratching! Many insects are more likely to bite at dusk and dawn time- so it’s a good idea to be prepared whilst sitting outside eating your evening meal. Take an effective repellent with you and apply to exposed skin. DEET (diethyltoluamide) based repellents are considered to provide effective and long lasting protection, although they are not without some problems. A small number of people have reported severe reactions with the chemical and many products are not suitable for young children. DEET can also damage synthetic materials and plastics so be careful not to spill it near your sunglasses or camera. Cotton ankle and wrist bands impregnated with DEET have been shown to be a very effective means of reducing insect bites. For a natural alternative use products derived from lemon eucalyptus which have been shown in laboratory and field trials to provide a comparable level of protection to DEET repellents. Unfortunately, there is no clinical evidence that eating garlic or taking vitamin B12 makes you less attractive to biting insects.
Hard ticks are a particular problem and are one of the only European arthropods to transmit diseases. These 8-legged little creatures often dwell on grass/undergrowth in woodland clearings and attach themselves to passing animals and humans in order to take a blood meal. In the process of feeding they can transmit a number of diseases including tick-borne encephalitis and Lyme disease.
Tick-borne encephalitis can lead to headaches and fever and in more severe cases can result in upto 10% of people dying or suffering long term disability. Around 11,000 cases of the disease are reported each year in Russia whilst 3,000 cases are reported in temperate parts of Europe. Many countries such as Austria and Germany have instigated successful immunisation campaigns which have drastically reduced the number of cases. A recent study has estimated that there are 60 ‘travel-related’ cases of tick-borne encephalitis reported each year in tourists visiting Austria.
Travellers planning to go walking or camping in affected areas during the spring and summer months are often asked to consider immunisation (which is now available in the UK). It’s a good idea to be aware of the potential of infection and take specific precautions to minimise the risk. Wear effective repellents on exposed skin whilst out walking in woodland areas and tuck trousers into socks (not a fashion statement but effective!). Check yourself each day for attached ticks, they tend to like warm nooks such as behind ear and around groins. The longer they are attached the greater the risk that they can transmit an infection so remove them with tweezers or a tick hook. They can often be difficult to remove, it is best to grip them firmly as close to skin as possible. Be careful that all the mouthparts have been removed as the site can become infected. If you do find a tick attached don’t be too alarmed- only a small percentage are infected with any diseases.
Good luck and lets hope the bugs don’t bite too much this year!…