There’s no denying the Rio Olympics got off to a rocky start. Swimming events are threatened by terrible water pollution, while poor plumbing and electricity have made the Olympic Village “unlivable” for athletes. Meanwhile visitors who have traveled thousands of miles to watch the Games have the Zika virus weighing heavily on their minds. Even if you’re not Brazil-bound this summer, here are some important steps in staying safe around mosquitoes as you travel.
Know the risks
Mosquitoes can be found worldwide, but the illnesses they carry can vary depending on where you’re traveling. A few nips in Europe are highly unlikely to land you with yellow fever, while in parts of South America, you should be more cautious. The length of your trip can be a factor too. A week-long stay in Bangkok doesn’t put you at risk for Japanese encephalitis, but trekking through the jungles of Laos for a month could. Whenever you’re planning travel, consult your doctor and the CDC website to know what diseases you may be at risk of contracting.
For some more serious illnesses, you may be advised to get a vaccine or prescription medication before your travels.
If you’re spending a month or more in the rural areas of Southeast Asia, you’ll likely need to shell out for a Japanese encephalitis vaccine. The JE vaccine is given in two doses, the first given a little over a month before travel and the second about a week before departure. Because JE is not common to the U.S. or Europe, this vaccine will likely not be covered by your insurance and could cost as much as $1,000-1,500 out of pocket.
Whether you have to get a yellow fever vaccine depends even more heavily on your itinerary. Even if you don’t travel to any regions where yellow fever is endemic, some countries require proof of vaccination before you can enter. One injection, typically given about two weeks before travel, can grant you lifelong immunity from the disease. The cost of a yellow fever vaccine might range from $150-350 out of pocket.
Malaria is also a mosquito-borne illness, but cannot be vaccinated against. Instead, you’ll need a daily prescription medication. The two most common choices are doxycycline and malarone. Doxycycline is less expensive, costing $2-3 per pill, but must be taken for 2 days before entering a malaria endemic area and for a full month after leaving. Malarone can cost up to twice as much, but only needs to be taken for a week after leaving the endemic area. The side effects for the two pills also vary, so it’s imperative to speak to your doctor about your travel plans before deciding on a medication.
There is no vaccine or medication for Zika virus, and even if you do get vaccinated for another illness, this is not a substitute for other safety measures.
The obvious first step in preventing mosquito-borne illnesses is to avoid getting mosquito bites. Most travelers at risk will stock up on heavy-duty insect repellant. But don’t forget that dousing yourself in chemicals is just one part of the picture. You should also take care to wear long sleeve shirts and pants, instead of more revealing clothing. Some travel gear companies, like XXX, make clothing with insect repellent built into the fabric.
In many countries with serious mosquito-borne illness problems, it’s common to sleep under a mosquito net – something with a fine enough mesh that insects can’t get through. Burning a mosquito coil can also keep the pests away. Unless you plan on spending lots of time camping in high risk, rural areas, however, you probably do not need to pack your own mosquito net or mosquito coil. Check with your accommodations to see if they provide these items before rushing out to buy your own.