Travel Advice : Bites and Stings

Don’t let Insects bite into your holiday. A few essential precautions can help you stay safe and make the most of your time away
mosquito nets

Warmer climate usually means more insects and a higher risk of bites and stings. Mosquitoes are the most common biting insect, although several other insects may also bite such as flies, ticks, fleas and bed bugs. Although most bites cause minor irritation and localized pain, some can cause serious diseases such as:

  • Malaria
  • Dengue
  • Chikengunya
  • Yellow Fever
  • Japanese Encephalitis
  • Tick-borne Encephalitis
  • Lyme disease
  • Zika

Travellers can check if any of these disease are prevalent where they are going to on official websites such as travelhealthpro which provide trusted information from government sources. If there is a risk where you are going, the most effective way to protect yourself is to get vaccinated before you travel. Some vaccinations can take a few months to complete the full course in order to  be fully protected, so its essential to plan early.

Vaccines prevent the illness from bites, but don’t stop the irritation, itching, and pain you may experience from bites. Bites usually lead to small, localised bumps in the skin caused by mild allergic reactions in the area. These can sometimes become infected, especially if the bites get scratched because of the itching. Bites may also lead to rare allergic reactions called anaphylaxis which can be life-threatening.

Preventing Bites

Preventing insect bites is the most important step to staying safe and reducing these risks. Travellers can take some of the following steps, such as:

  • Wearing clothes that cover the arms, legs and neck, especially during dawn, dusk and night time when mosquitoes are most active. Clothes should be loose fitting, as mosquitoes can still bit through clothes that are tight to the skin.
  • Using insect repellents. These should be applied to all exposed areas of skin and after sunscreens. They should also be reapplied regularly, especially after swimming or bathing.
  • Using mosquito nets, and treating them with insecticides or insect repellents.
  • Staying in air-conditioned rooms and rooms away from damp soil and stagnant water where insects may breed.
  • Try not to scratch any bites, as this can make the itching worse and spread further germs from your hands and nails into the skin or cause bleeding which can lead to the bite getting infected.
Several types of insect repellents are available. Usually most travel experts recommend high strength ones containing at DEET or Picardin if travelling to any tropical region. DEET is the most effective repellent to prevent mosquito bites and using repellents containing atleast 50% DEET or 20% Picardin offers the best protection.  Some milder, lower strengths are also available, but these are usually only suited to areas with less insects, such as travelling in the UK or Europe. Milder insect repellents may also be more suited to people with sensitive skin. Some people prefer using natural repellents such as Citronella oil, Eucolyptus oil, etc. however these are not usually recommended as they are not as effective as DEET to prevent getting infections. Some general points when using repellents:

  • Make sure you apply repellents to ALL exposed areas of skin
  • Reapply regularly. Repellents get washed off when bathing, swimming and from sweat.
  • If you use sunscreen, apply the repellent AFTER applying sunscreen. Repellents can also make sunscreens less effective, so its important to use stronger SPF above 30
  • Some repellents can be applied to mosquito nets to give you added protection when sleeping
  • Mosquitoes are more active when it gets darker, such as dusk and night time, so reapply repellents BEFORE it starts getting darker.
  • Check the label. Some products may not be suitable for the skin and sprayed on clothes, others can stain some clothes or damage plastics such as credit cards, phones, watches, etc. Always follow the manufacturers instructions to use them safely.
  • Don’t breath in repellents. If applying on the face, spray it on your hand to apply instead.
  • Use plug-in insect repellents along side other protection. These plug-in devices release repellent into the air in the room. They are not effective on there own but should be used in combination with other methods to reduce the risk of bites.
Ticks are found in grassy areas and woodlands. Travellers may be at risk if doing activities such as camping, hiking, mountain biking or mountaineering. Ticks attach to the skin and can spread diseases such as Tick-borne encephalitis and Lyme disease. Travellers need to be aware of ticks if going through any grassy areas and check regularly to make sure ticks don’t stay attached to skin or clothes for long.

  • Sticking to clear walking paths can help to make you less prone to catching ticks.
  • Ticks can crawl along the skin so covering all the skin is essential, including long sleeves and trousers, and tucking trousers into socks to stop Ticks getting underneath.
  • Wearing lighter colours can also make it easier to spot ticks

Tick removal tools are available to remove ticks, but you can also use tweezers to gently remove them from the skin.

  • Grab the Tick as close to the skin as possible and gently pull them away from the skin.
  • Use a magnifying glass or reading glasses to see them as they are quite small
  • Avoid squeezing or crushing them to prevent further toxins entering the body.
Insect bites can be very irritating and itchy. They cause localised allergic reactions in the skin leading to small swollen, itchy red bumps. Sometimes the reaction can spread around the site of the bite covering an area much larger than the bite itself.
Avoid the urge to scratch the bite as this can make the reaction worse, along with spreading further germs from your hands and fingers and making the bite bleed, which can lead to further infection. Instead,

  • Check the skin for anything left on the skin, such as a stinger from a bee or wasp, a tick or any other debris. Use tweezers to gently pull anything away and avoid squeezing or crushing it. If it is a bee or hornet stinger, flick if away from the skin using a credit card or fingernail.
  • wash the bite with cold soapy water and apply something cold such as ice, an ice pack or calamine lotion which has a cooling effect to sooth the bite.
  • Bite relief creams usually contain an antihistamine or mild steroid and can be applied to reduce the itching and swelling to soothe the bite.
  • Antihistamine tablets taken as soon as you get bitten can also reduce the reaction from the bite and relieve itching.
  • Take painkillers such as Paracetamol or Ibuprofen if the bite is painful.

Seek medical help if the would gets infected. Signs of this are pus from the wound, increased redness, soreness, swelling and pain around the area, the bite getting progressively worse,  flu-like symptoms such as temperature or the bite not starting to heal after a few days.

If you have any serious reaction, such as swelling of the face, mouth, tongue, breathing difficulty or nausea/vomiting you must get medical attention immediately.
Whilst cats and dogs are common pets in the UK, travellers can encounter several wild cats and dogs abroad which are not so accustomed to living with people. Bat and monkey bites can also be a problem in places such as Africa and Asia. Wild animals will not have had the same treatments as pets and can carry several diseases spread from bites such as Rabies and Tetanus.

Travelers at most risk are people doing activities with animals, such as going on safari tours, visiting animal farms, but also those visiting cities in Asia and Africa where wild dogs are common Children can be most at risk of animal bites as they are more likely to approach animals and less aware of the dangers.

If you are bitten by an animal when abroad, it is important to know some basic first aid and have a first aid kit at hand.

  • Wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water, flushing with water for several minutes to wash away and saliva and debris which might carry infections.
  • Remove any objects stuck in the wound.
  • If the wound is bleeding, initially allow it to bleed to carry any infection out of the body.
  • Apply an antiseptic to prevent infection and apply a dressing on the wound to stop any bleeding and prevent further infection.
  • Seek medical attention immediately for any animal bite.

It is important to understand the risk of animal bites when abroad.
Always keep a safe distance from animals and remind children of the risks and dangers animals in the wild. Try not to threaten animals or their young ones, or disturb them if they are feeding as they may retaliate. Avoid feeding animals to prevent unnecessary scratches or bites.

Vaccines for Rabies and Tetanus are available for travellers at risk of animal bites. Travellers at high risk of animals should check if they require a vaccine before travelling. 
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