The only time you know there’s a mosquito around is at night, when that high-pitched whine zooming past your ear prevents you from falling asleep. But how can you avoid becoming a victim, or take the sting out of a bite?
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Why do mosquito bites itch so much?
As the insect inserts its proboscis to suck your blood, it injects numbing saliva and an anticoagulant to prevent your blood from clotting. These trigger a release of histamine by the body, which causes itching, inflammation and swelling.
What diseases do mosquitos carry?
Apart from the infuriatingly itchy red lump, there are more serious mosquito-borne reasons to avoid being bitten. Around 1,500 travellers a year return to the UK with malaria. Symptoms include fever, headaches, vomiting, sweats and chills – and it can be fatal. There’s no vaccine; you may need to take anti-malarial medication before you go. Find out more about Malaria at the NHS Fit For Travel website.
Dengue causes fever, headache and muscle and joint pain, and is the second most common cause of fever in ill international travellers. There is no vaccine. Find out more about Dengue Fever from the NHS Fit For Travel website.
Chikungunya was first identified in Tanzania in 1952, and results in sudden fever and joint pain. There is no vaccine. Find out more about Chikungunya Fever at the NHS Fit For Travel website.
Yellow fever is found in parts of Africa, the Caribbean, and South and central America. It causes fever, headache and light sensitivity. The vaccine is needed 10 days before travelling. It’s not usually available free from the NHS and costs from £60. Find out more about Yellow Fever at the NHS Fit For Travel website.
Zika virus hit the headlines in 2015. For most people, it’s not serious and lasts a few days, but can cause microcephaly in the babies of infected pregnant women. Find out more about Zika Virus Infection at the NHS Fit For Travel website.
Check your destination at the NHS Fit For Travel website, and consult your GP or travel health specialist well before your trip.
Reduce the risk of being bitten by a mosquito
Generally, mosquitos are most active at dawn, dusk and overnight, so apply repellent, and wear long-sleeved tops and long skirts or trousers.
Stay cool, as a higher body temperature can attract unwelcome attention, and avoid wearing perfume and other scented products.
The pests are attracted to dark colours such as navy and black, so dressing in white and pastel shades can help keep them at bay. (And,if there are any hovering, you’ll be able to spot them more easily against a light background!)
There are two main approaches: barriers and repellents:
Mosquito nets are often supplied by hotels but make sure that they’re tucked under the mattress and have no holes or tears. Alternatively, take your own, such as the Micronet (Boots, £24.99,), which meets the World Health Organization standard: at least 156 holes per square inch.
The best-known mosquito repellent is DEET (or diethyltoluamide), developed in 1944 for the US military following jungle warfare in World War Two. Mosquitos do dislike and actively avoid the smell. It’s found in the Jungle Formula range, the UK’s best-selling brand (Jungle Formula Maximum Aerosol Insect Repellent, £9.99, 150ml, Superdrug). Undoubtedly effective, DEET can also dissolve varnishes and some plastics so take care where you apply it.
If you prefer natural ingredients, an extract of lemon eucalyptus (Eucalyptus citriodora) has a pleasant smell and has been found as effective as synthetic repellents.Try Mosi-Guard Natural (from £7.59), which comes as a spray, roll-on and solid stick.
Pyrethrum powder (an insecticide derived from dried chrysanthemums) is the active ingredient in mosquito coils. Once lit, the coil smoulders for hours, giving off an aromatic smoke that keeps the bugs away.
Got an electric socket? You can use a plug-in repellent, which comes with tablets or liquid. Unlike coils, you can leave these to work while you sleep.
Why do mosquitos always bite me?
Most of our differences in ‘biteability’ is down to genetics, and the variable mix of chemicals that we excrete through our skin. However, some of the other factors that make you more of a target include being sweaty, exhaling more carbon dioxide, being tall or pregnant, or giving off lactic acid, because you’ve been exercising. And those with Type O blood are twice as likely to get bitten.
Soothe those mosquito bites
Most importantly, don’t scratch. This will merely inflame the skin more, leading to more itchiness. And if you break the skin, there’s the risk of infection.
To reduce swelling, apply a cold, wet cloth or an ice pack. If the area is painful, take paracetamol or ibuprofen.
Antihistamines inhibit the body’s histamine response to the bite, reducing itching and inflammation. A cream, such as Anthisan (20g, £2.65, Superdrug) is soothing to apply, or take an antihistamine, such as cetirizine, loratadine and fexofenadine, in tablet form.
Hydrocortisone is a corticosteroid which reduces skin inflammation. (Try HC45 Hydrocortisone Cream (£3.89, 15g from Boots)
Use a ‘clicker’ (not suitable for people with pacemakers) soon after being bitten to combat itching. Hold the little plastic gadget against the bite, click the button and the tiny current passes into your skin. Repeat a few times and the urge to scratch disappears within a few minutes. Try Superdrug’s Zap It, £4.99.
And don’t think you’re safe if you’re having a staycation: mosquito bites are on the rise in the UK…
Please remember: read the small print of medications and devices carefully, and consider your own circumstances. If you are taking any other medication or are using a medical device, take extra care and consult your doctor and your pharmacist if you are not sure about the suitability of a product.
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