7 Jul 2021
One of the potential hazards of travel in tropical regions is the prospect of being bitten by insects.
Generally speaking this is more of an inconvenience than anything else, but there are some considerable risks to health, including malaria, sleeping sickness and dengue fever.
In this section we discuss how insect bites may affect your trip ...
Avoiding insect bites
The adversities of insect warfare can almost always be avoided by taking a few simple precautions ...
- get the relevant vaccinations
- take any necessary medication
- wear appropriate clothing
- carry suitable medicines
- use insect repellent
- sleep under good mosquito nets
Time of year
The number one way to avoid many insect problems is to travel to areas where issues do not exist, but this is rather limiting.
In most areas the best plan is to travel during the dry season, when there tend to be far fewer insects around.
During the day
Insect issues during the day tend to be pretty few and far between.
Obviously you shouldn't go scrabbling around under too many rocks and rotten branches. If you do come across anything then probably best to assume that it is poisonous, rather than pick it up and find out the hard way.
In certain areas it might be worth spraying up with insect repellent even during daylight hours.
During the night
Some insects are much more active during the night and they tend to follow the light. Always close your door or tent at night and while lights are on to avoid un invited guest in your room.
The hours of darkness tend to be much more insectivorous and taking suitable precautions is highly advisable
Probably the winner in the irritating stakes is the tsetse (pronounced 'tett-see'), a large stinging fly which inhabits certain areas of thick bush and which can occasionally carry sleeping sickness
On the subject of flies which get you whilst walking on beaches or marshy ground around lakes, jiggers have the unpleasant habit of burrowing into the soles of your feet to lay their eggs.
On safari it is quite common to find large open honeycombs, especially on the branches of large baobab trees. Although it's generally quite safe to approach these, we tend to stay at least 10 metres distance, whilst keeping quiet and still, for fear that the bees might swarm and attack.
Another insect of legend is the soldier ant.
The problem with these guys is not that they will eat you, but that they simply have no decency when it comes to route planning. If you lie between their Point A and Point B then they will go right over you. Assuming that you are awake and see them coming then there should be no issue, you can simply step out of the way. But if they catch you by surprise then their bite can be quite painful.
Narrow bee flies sometimes known as Nairobi fly
Another real but more occasional nuisance is the Narrow bee fly, which is actually a beetle. If this lands on your skin and you squash it, then its contents are highly toxic and can cause a particularly nasty rash. The lesson to be learned is always brush an insect off your skin rather than squash it.
You should never handle caterpillars, especially ones with long hairs, since these can be extremely irritating. The only solution is to remove the hairs, so careful washing of body, clothes and anywhere else the hairs may be residing.
Scorpions tend to live in burrows, under rocks and logs, so if you don't go rooting around in such places then you will most likely not encounter one.
When travelling to any area in which malaria is endemic, you must consult your doctor about taking a course of preventative pills.
General tips for insect bites
1. Take suitable measures to avoid getting bitten
2. Carry suitable supplies in your medical kit
3. Try to capture the offending insect for identification
4. Ask locally what is the best course of action
5. Never let something fester, never be shy to seek medical advice
6. Remain vigilant once you return home
Please note that all of the information on this page and elsewhere in any section of our website is provided for information only. We suggest that you always refer to a health professional when seeking medical advice.