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Insect Bites On Holiday – Risks and Prevention

Avoid insect bites

Apart from carrying a variety of diseases, insect bites are itchy, unpleasant and can cause serious skin rashes if left untreated.

But have no fear! Superdrug Travel have put together a useful guide to help you avoid those pesky bugs. There are plenty of things you can do to avoid insect bites and we’d recommend that you use a combination of these in order to successfully keep them at bay. In all cases, we advise seeking medical attention if you’re unlucky enough to be exposed.

First of all, there are several different types of insect bite to avoid:

  • Mosquitoes
  • Blackflies, Tsetseflies and Sandflies
  • Bugs
  • Ticks
  • Fleas


Mosquito bites can be sore and itchy but tend to be painless. Unfortunately, they can also spread a whole host of scary diseases such as Malaria, Yellow fever, Dengue fever, Japanese Encephalitis, Eastern Equine Encephalitis, Filariasis, Rift Valley Fever, Ross River Virus, Murray Valley Encephalitis, St Louis Encephalitis and West Nile Fever.

So, how do you avoid them?

  • First of all: forget garlic, Vitamin B and ultrasound devices, which don’t work!
  • Try to wear clothing that covers your body as much as possible: long-sleeved tops and trousers are best.
  • Mosquitoes can sometimes bite through thin clothing, so to be extra safe spray some insecticide or insect repellent on your skin and clothes too.
  • Ask at your local Superdrug pharmacy about pyrethroid coils and insecticide candles to ward them away from your room at night.
  • If it’s hot enough to sleep outside or if your bedroom is unscreened, a mosquito net is an excellent idea. Some new models even contain pyrethroid or insecticide in the netting itself and these are best. Buy these from any good outdoor or travel equipment shop and have a go at using your net before you travel.

Blackflies, Tsetseflies and Sandflies

Blackflies, Tsetseflies and Sandflies are all insects to avoid.
Blackflies carry something called Onchocerciasis (also known as ‘river blindness’) and Mansonellosis. If bitten by a Blackfly, you’re likely to get a very red and itchy rash. The bite from a Tsetsefly is painful, and these flies carry African trypanosomiasis. Sandflies carry diseases called Leishmaniasis and Bartonellosis and will give you an itchy bite. Avoid these flies by:

  • Doing your best to avoid any unnecessary exposure in areas of known infestation.
  • Covering your body as much as possible with clothing, and by using a good insecticide or repellent.
  • Blackflies are so small that they can often pass through most nets, but using a net that’s been treated with insecticide will help to kill them before they find their way through.
  • Ask around for specific advice from locals if you’re staying in a rural infested area for any length of time.


Bugs are never much fun. Some of them carry what’s known as South American trypanosomiasis, or Chagas disease, so stay extra vigilant if you’re in a known infested area. These bugs will only come out at night and live within the walls of mud huts or houses. If you can, avoid sleeping in these houses altogether. If you can’t, then try to sleep well away from the walls. Nets are always a good way to stay protected against most bugs.


Ticks live in areas of long grass or bracken and attach themselves to your skin or clothing. The bites can cause a very red and itchy reaction on the affected skin, especially if the mouth of the tick is left in for a long period of time. They also carry African tick-bite fever, Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever, Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted fever and Tick-borne encephalitis. Here are some things to bear in mind:

  • It’s most important to remove the tick as quickly as you can! Do this with tweezers, hooking them around the mouth-part of the tick, underneath the body. If you don’t have these to hand use a fingernail to prize it from the skin. Never squeeze the body of the tick.
  • If you have a known history of anaphylaxis then you should always carry an adrenaline pen in case of bites.
  • If you’re travelling in urban areas or developed tourist resorts, it’s unlikely that you’ll come across any.
    They like grassy areas best, so keep to paths as much as possible if you’re in an infested area.
  • Again, covering the skin is best. However unfashionable it might look, tucking trousers into your socks is a great way to keep ticks away from your legs! Spray insect repellent onto your clothing and boots to be extra safe.
  • Ticks find warm, moist parts of the body most tasty, so it’s possible that they’ll have migrated around your body once they’ve become attached to the skin. Check yourself
    all over before going to sleep to make sure you don’t have an unwelcome bedfellow.
  • If you are bitten, then remember that ticks normally won’t feed for between 12 and 24 hours after attaching themselves to your skin. The risk of infection at this point is very low, but it’s still a good idea to get the bite checked.


Fleas and humans don’t generally have the best history: rat fleas being the primary culprits and carriers of plague. These can still be found in tropical areas where standards of sanitation are low, and tend to live on rats and other small animals. If you’re entering a known plague-endemic area, then use lots of repellent and insecticide to keep them away. Spray liberally on your clothing and bedclothes too because they often hide there.

Top Tips For Avoiding Insect Bites

So there’s the low-down on all the main insect bites you could be exposed to. For most, if not all of these, using a good insect repellent is the most effective method way to avoid getting bitten. Insect repellents come in lots of different forms and strengths. Make sure you choose the right one by following these tips:

  • Repellents containing di-ethyltoluamide (DEET) are proven to be the best for preventing mosquito bites, so use these in areas where the risk of malaria or dengue is high. If you’re allergic to DEET you can buy other ones that use Dimethyl Pthalate or Eucalyptus oil.
  • Always follow the product instructions, and seek a doctor if you think you are having a reaction to one of the ingredients.
  • Liquids, creams, lotions and sticks are all designed for skin application, and these tend to have a lower concentration (around 30 – 50%).
  • Products for clothes will have a higher concentration (100%) and come in aerosol and pump-spray forms for easy use.
  • When using repellent on the skin, it’s best to spray it first on your hands and then apply it around exposed areas of skin,
    taking care to avoid the eyes and mouth. Never spray directly to the face and use sparingly around the ears.
  • For children, try to use clothing as the main barrier and apply it to their skin yourself to prevent them from handling it.
  • Never use repellents on irritated skin or over cuts, grazes or wounds, and always wash treated skin after use. This is crucial if you’re using repellents regularly or over a long period of time.
  • Only use as much as needed. Using too much won’t help keep bugs away any better.
  • The best protection against insect bites is from your clothes:
    only use repellents on any areas of exposed skin that are left over, or double up with clothing sprayed with repellent for extra security.

Remember: don’t panic! If you encounter an angry wasp, hornet or bee, don’t try to swat them away with your hands. It probably goes without saying, but if you encounter an insect nest then leave it well alone, and always go to see a doctor if you think you’ve been bitten by one of the above.

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