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Preventing Insect Bites

Overview

 Hot, humid environments are breeding grounds for the types of mosquitos that carry disease such as Chikungunya, Dengue Fever, Malaria, and Zika. Malaria is the only disease where the right prophylactic medication, taken properly, offers protection from infection. There are no cures for any of these diseases, and although the symptoms are not usually life-threatening for healthy individuals, they can be extremely uncomfortable and in some cases, have lasting effects. (For more information about Zika and travel, see the Emergency Messages page).

Preventing exposure to mosquito bites is important to reducing one’s risk of exposure. Before traveling, review the precautions to prevent mosquito bites prepared by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and mosquito-bourne disease prevention tips from the World Health Organization (WHO).

The CDC also provides tips on insect repellant use and safety, including the recommendation that you should apply sunscreen before applying mosquito repellent.

If you are concerned about a risk of exposure to a mosquito-borne illness, contact a specialist in travel medicine, such as Northwestern Medicine’s Travel Medicine Clinic or Glenbrook Hospital’s Travel Clinic. Pregnant women, or women planning to become pregnant planning to travel to a country with active Zika transmission, should consult with their OB/GYN. Travelers who display any of the symptoms outlined below should seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Chikungunya

Chikungunya is most prevalent in South and Central America, Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. Symptoms most associated with the virus are fever and joint pain. There is no vaccine to prevent the spread of chikungunya. Additional information on the virus can be found on the CDC’s website.   

Dengue

People who have contracted dengue typically experience symptoms similar to influenza. According to the World Health Organization, approximately half of the world’s population is at risk for dengue. The mosquito-borne viral infection is most commonly found in urban environments in tropical locations. Although there is no treatment for dengue, early detection can reduce mortality rates to below one percent.

Malaria

According to data from the World Health Organization, over 90 countries have ongoing malaria transmission. However, most malaria cases are found in Africa, as the continent is home to 90 percent of reported cases. The first symptoms of malaria are normally fever, headache and chills.  

Yellow Fever

Travelers to certain parts of South America (particularly in coastal areas of Brazil) and Africa are at risk for yellow fever. The yellow fever vaccine is the best protection against yellow fever disease, but it should be administered at least 10 days before travel for optimal results. However, because US-licensed yellow fever vaccine is out of stock, a limited number of clinics in the United States are now offering an equally safe and effective alternate vaccine, Stamaril. Find a clinic near campus or in your hometown by using the map feature on the prior link.

Zika

The Zika virus is an illness with generally mild symptoms, including fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes), which can last several days to a week. Currently, there is no vaccine to prevent or medicine to treat Zika, but symptoms are rarely severe and hospitalization is uncommon. Zika is spread by mosquitos and therefore most prevalent in tropical environments. Travelers can limit their exposure to Zika (and other mosquito-borne illnesses like Malaria, Dengue Fever and Chikungunya) by taking precautions to prevent mosquito bites.

 Zika is linked to a specific birth defect called microcephaly. Because of this link, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) developed specific guidance for pregnant women and women trying to become pregnant, warning them to avoid visiting places where the virus is currently circulating. The CDC has also issued information about the risk of transmitting Zika through sexual contact. Note that some locations may offer a reduced chance of exposure to Zika due to high elevation.

 The CDC’s Zika destinations page is the most up-to-date resource for determining risks of exposure based on location.