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Preventing insect bites while traveling

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 5 minutes read
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Preventing insect bites while traveling is always at the front of people’s minds, especially when traveling to far-flung corners of the earth. But what is the best way to do it? Are certain products better than others? In this article, Healthwords expert travel pharmacists will explain everything you need to know to help you be fully informed and put your mind at ease!

The reality is that some mosquitos carry severe diseases, so rather than an annoyance while on holiday in Ibiza – it may be a medical imperative that you do everything to avoid receiving a bite. Because different mosquitos carry different diseases, and they all fly at varying times of day in some areas, it may be necessary to use insect repellents day and night. Insect repellents have been around for nearly a century, and the most effective of these is the product DEET (the active ingredient in most common repellent products). Other products include picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus.

Are bites and stings entirely preventable?

No product will fully prevent you from being bitten. The most important points to note with all products are how frequently they are applied and the amount that should be used. Follow the product instructions and regularly apply any bite protection product, remembering to use it day and night if you are wanting protection from all species of mosquitos.

Here are some preventive measures to reduce the risk of getting stung or bitten:

Avoiding known habitats

Stay away from areas where biting or stinging insects are commonly found, such as stagnant water, garbage bins, and areas with dense vegetation.

Wearing protective clothing

Wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants, socks, and closed-toe shoes when outdoors, especially in areas where insects are prevalent. Tucking pants into socks and wearing light-colored clothing can also help deter insects.

Using insect repellents

See below to read more about how to apply insect repellant.

Avoiding strong fragrances

Avoid using heavily scented perfumes, lotions, and hair products, as they may attract insects.

Keeping food covered

When dining outdoors, keep food and drinks covered to prevent attracting insects such as flies, bees, and wasps.

Checking bedding and clothing

Inspect bedding, clothing, and outdoor gear for insects before use, especially when camping or hiking in areas where biting insects are prevalent.

Using protective netting

Use mosquito nets or screens on windows and doors to prevent insects from entering living spaces.

Being mindful of outdoor activities

Be cautious when participating in outdoor activities such as gardening, hiking, and camping, and take steps to minimize exposure to biting and stinging insects.

What other methods can I use to effectively reduce being bitten?

Other tips to help reduce your risk of getting bitten by mosquitos include spraying permethrin onto clothing and equipment (but avoiding your skin). Permethrin kills mosquitos on contact and is an effective method of bite reduction. When outside, long-sleeved clothing and trousers are good barriers that can be used especially against night-time flying insects. Use a bed net while sleeping and turn on any fans or air conditioning that move the air around. Turn down any temperature controls to the lowest setting because mosquitos become inactive in cooler temperatures and cannot survive at temperatures much lower than 59 degrees fahrenheit.

There are many claims of homeopathic treatments and herbal remedies such as geranium, eucalyptus, rose, citronella, tea-tree, garlic, vitamin B, and alcohol being used as insect repellents. There is no evidence these are effective. There are no recommended homeopathic remedies for bite prevention that are endorsed by reputable homeopathic organizations.

How and when do I apply insect repellent?

Use a 40% DEET-based repellent or, if preferred, the highest strength of picaridin available. A 40% DEET provides the maximum level of protection. The higher strengths of DEET do not give any more protection, although they do provide the benefit that they last longer between applications. Always apply sunscreen first, let it dry, and then apply repellent to the surface. Products with a combined sunscreen and insect repellent have been found to have lower sunscreen protection – so we would go for separate products.

Are bites and stings prevention more important if I am pregnant?

Certain diseases that are spread by mosquitos and insects can cause additional complications for people who are pregnant – such as malaria and zika virus. If you are pregnant or consider you may be pregnant then consult your midwife or travel health specialist before jumping on the plane. DEET can be used by pregnant women, in breast feeding women and infants over the age of 2 months.

What to do if you get bitten or stung

If you are bitten or stung by an insect, it's essential to take appropriate steps to alleviate discomfort, reduce the risk of infection, and manage any potential allergic reactions. Here's what to do if you get bitten or stung:

  • If possible, move away from the area where the bite or sting occurred to avoid further encounters with insects.
  • If you have been stung by a bee or a wasp, gently scrape the stinger out of the skin using a blunt object such as a credit card or your fingernail.
  • Wash the affected area with soap and water to remove any dirt, bacteria, or venom from the skin. This helps reduce the risk of infection and may alleviate itching or discomfort.
  • Place a cold compress or ice pack wrapped in a cloth on the bite or sting site to reduce swelling, inflammation, and pain.
  • Apply the cold compress for 10-15 minutes at a time, several times a day, as needed.
  • Over-the-counter insect bite creams, such as hydrocortisone cream, Anthisan, or calamine lotion, can help relieve itching and inflammation associated with insect bites and stings.
  • Antihistamines taken orally can also provide relief from itching and allergic reactions.
  • Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help alleviate pain and discomfort caused by insect bites and stings.
  • Monitor the bite or sting site for signs of allergic reactions, such as hives, swelling beyond the site of the bite or sting, difficulty breathing, dizziness, or nausea. If you experience severe allergic reaction symptoms or have a history of severe allergic reactions, seek emergency medical attention immediately.

Seek Medical Attention if Necessary

If the bite or sting is from a venomous insect such as a scorpion, black widow spider, or brown recluse spider, or if you develop signs of infection (e.g., increased redness, warmth, or drainage from the site), consult a healthcare professional for further evaluation and treatment.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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