Mosquito-borne disease prevention
When travelling overseas, and in certain areas in Australia, you should be aware of the dangers of mosquito-borne diseases, such as:
- Zika virus;
- Japanese encephalitis;
- Barmah Forest virus disease;
- chikungunya virus infection;
- Ross River virus disease;
- yellow fever; and
- Murray Valley encephalitis.
While some of these illnesses are not common, others affect millions of people worldwide. It is always a good idea to protect yourself against mosquito-borne diseases.
How can I protect myself from mosquito bites?
You should take as many precautions as possible to protect yourself from being bitten. Bites can occur at any time. Many mosquitoes bite between dusk and dawn, but some are more active during the daytime, such as those that transmit Zika virus. This type of mosquito – the Aedes aegypti – also transmits dengue and chikungunya virus.
There are a number of things you can do to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes.
- Wear protective clothing; long sleeves and long pants in light colours are best. Mosquitoes are attracted to darker colours.
- It is often a good idea to avoid being outdoors between dawn and dusk.
- Treat your clothes and mosquito nets with an insect repellent containing permethrin. Permethrin paralyses and kills mosquitoes if they eat or touch it. It is also toxic to cats. Spray permethrin on your clothing and mosquito nets or soak clothes and bed nets in permethrin wash. It is also possible to buy clothes that have been pre-treated with permethrin. Be careful not to let the clothing touch your eyes and mouth.
- On your skin, use insect repellents containing DEET (preferably more than 20 per cent) or picaridin. DEET and picaridin don’t kill mosquitoes but stop them from being able to smell (and so bite) you. Repellents should be applied to exposed areas of skin but be careful to wash your hands after application and do not touch your eyes and mouth.
- Always try to stay in accommodation that has insect screens over the windows and doors and mosquito netting over the beds.
- Mosquito coils can be burned and offer some protection for approximately 6 hours.
- Indoors, use plug-in mosquito zappers, which release insecticide at low levels for several hours.
- Sleep in air conditioned rooms where possible, as this reduces the risk of mosquito activity.
How to apply insect repellent
- On your skin, you should use insect repellents that contain DEET or picaridin. Check which products are suitable with your pharmacist.
- Always read the instructions before use.
- Take special care with children. Adults should apply insect repellent to young children, rather than letting children apply their own. Avoid getting repellent on children’s hands or near their eyes and mouth. Insect repellent is usually not suitable for babies younger than 2 months.
- When using sunscreen and insect repellent at the same time, apply the sunscreen first.
- Don’t forget to reapply your insect repellent as directed.
How can I stop mosquitoes at home?
Removing possible breeding sites around your home, especially if you live in the northern areas of Australia where disease-carrying mosquitoes can be present, can help protect against mosquito-borne illnesses.
Measures you can take to reduce mosquitoes around your home include the following.
- Identifying any places outside your home and yard where rainwater can collect. Remove any empty containers; tip over buckets and wheelbarrows; and empty pot plant trays.
- Make sure any rainwater tanks and septic tank vents are screened.
- Make sure the gutters are not blocked.
- Fill in or drain any areas on the ground where water collects.
- Maintain the water in your swimming pool and ensure that it is clean.
- Change water in birdbaths at least once per week.
- Flush any unused toilets at least once a week.
How else can I avoid catching mosquito-borne infections?
There are vaccines available against some mosquito-borne diseases, including:
- yellow fever; and
- Japanese encephalitits.
Consult your doctor about whether you should be vaccinated before travel.
Malaria can be prevented by taking anti-malarial medicines while you are in affected areas (and for a period before and after travelling to these areas). Talk to your doctor about anti-malarial medicines well in advance of overseas travel.
Do I need travel insurance?
It is advisable to have adequate medical insurance when travelling overseas. You should consider medical evacuation as part of this insurance in case you contract a disease and need to be moved to a location with more advanced medical facilities.
Last Reviewed: 10/02/2016
1. World Health Organization (WHO). Vector-borne diseases (updated Feb 2016). http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs387/en/# (accessed Feb 2016).
2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Avoid mosquito bites (updated 15 Jan 2016). http://www.cdc.gov/Features/stopmosquitoes/index.html (accessed Feb 2016).
3. Smartraveller.gov.au; Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Infectious diseases. https://smartraveller.gov.au/guide/all-travellers/health/infectious-diseases.html (accessed Feb 2016).
Some diseases spread by mosquito bites cannot be treated and may produce long term problems or death.
Japanese encephalitis - a vaccine-preventable viral illness that is spread by mosquitos - can cause inflammation of your brain (encephalitis).
Dengue is a viral infection transmitted by mosquitoes in tropical areas, including north Queensland. Most people recover fully, but the severe form - dengue haemorrhagic fever - can be fatal.
Ross River virus
Ross River virus infection is spread by the bites of infected female mosquitoes. Most sufferers will have a sudden onset of flu-like symptoms that often include painful joints.
Yellow fever is a vaccine-preventable illness of varying severity caused by an infection with a virus spread by certain mosquitoes.