Don’t Let Mosquitos Spoil Your Vacation: What You Should Know About Insect Bites Before You Visit the Tropics

In warm humid climates where annual rainfall can exceed 100 inches, jungle epiphytes are tiny enclosed eco-systems that support fish, frogs, monkeys and birds.


Tides fill mangrove estuaries, those shady channels where caimen, poison dart frogs, land giant frigate birds roost. While travelers sightsee in skimpy clothing, mosquitos take advantage of so much bare skin.


Disease Transmission


While mosquitoes do carry diseases, the risk of contracting dengue fever is low except during periods of epidemic transmission. Disease outbreaks are seasonal, too, so check travel advisories. High season in the tropics (from December to May) is drier but prices also rise during that time. September and October are the rainiest months and roads will be muddy, but temperatures also cool off, causing less mosquito activity.


Use of Repellents and Barriers


Forget natural herbal repellents and boxes that emit anti-mosquito sounds in these climates. They generally do not offer much protection. Lightweight clothing is the best protection, especially during peak times of morning and twilight. Take a shirt or sarong to the beach.


Mosquitoes are attracted to warmth and carbon dioxide, so do not sleep without a net if your accommodations do not have screened windows. Screens and nets should fit tightly and not be torn. Packing a screen or net repair kit (duct tape and embroidery thread) may eliminate much worry.


Repellent made for deep woods camping is available for purchase locally. Do not spray it on broken skin as it will increase irritation. Instead, apply it liberally to clothing. Spraying a bednet with pyrethroids, a relatively safe insecticide, will bait and kill mosquitoes as they try to reach sleeping humans, but do not use this substance if you are allergic to it.


Ventilation works to keep mosquitoes from landing on sleeping travelers. One or more electric fans, set on high and directed at the bed, will make everyone more comfortable.


What Causes Mosquito Bites to Itch?


Science says the first time a person is bitten there is no reaction to the tenderizing enzymes and blood thinning substances the mosquito injects through her needle-like mouth parts (only the females bite). After repeated encounters the body forms antibodies against proteins in those substances which produce small, itchy red bumps a day later—this reaction is common in young children. The skin of older children and teenagers, sensitized by many more bites, produces an uncomfortable hive within minutes after a bite, followed by itchy red bumps the next day. Sensitization as we age decreases until most adults no longer react.


Reactions to mosquito bites vary, but not scratching is the best advice. Scratching or rubbing creates a stronger inflammatory response that may last for days. Evening Primrose Oil is a natural anti-inflammatory when taken orally.


Over-the-Counter Medications


Ibuprofen reduces the pain, redness and swelling of bites. Old-style antihistamines such as diphenhydramine quell reactions but cause drowsiness in adults and hyperactivity in young children. Among newer antihistamines, ceterizine (Zyrtec) is very effective, loratadine (Claritin) is not.


Home Remedies


Anything cold will help temporarily. A paste of baking soda and water may neutralize skin reactions. Aloe vera is soothing, as are menthol preparations. Alcohol, bar soap, alum, calamine and witch hazel have astrigent properties that relieve itching. Tea tree oil and fluoride toothpaste have also been suggested.


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