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Insect Protection and Repellents

Why insect protection?

Every year, millions travel to countries where serious, insect-borne diseases are present.  In the United States alone, 1,500 cases of malaria are diagnosed each year, primarily in travelers returning home.

To view a chart of insect conditions by country, click here.

Mosquitoes are the most "successful" of biting insects, and are often called the deadliest creature on earth, playing a major role in the global spread of serious infectious diseases such as malaria, west nile virus, and dengue fever. Mosquitoes infect up to 500 million people each year with malaria, and cause over a million deaths annually.  They are most active at dawn and dusk, but bites can occur at any time of day or night.

Ticks and biting flies also transmit diseases, such as Lyme disease, typhus, leishmaniasis, and other tropical and infectious diseases. In addition, bedbug infestations are on the rise, and while they don’t typically carry disease, they cause itchy bites, are very hard to get rid of and may hitch a ride home with you on your clothing or luggage.

How can we protect ourselves?

The combination of topical insect repellent applied to the skin, and insecticide applied to clothing, will provide excellent protection against insect bites.


  • DEET is a most effective and widely used topical insect repellent, and repellents containing DEET like these insect repellent wipes should be considered the first line of defense in the battle of the bites. DEET works by masking the odor of carbon dioxide given off by the body (bugs find this odor irresistible), thereby making us unattractive to the insect population.
  • Natural Repellents.  The oils of many plants have been shown to have repellent properties, including citronella, camphor, lemongrass, clove, eucalyptus and others. Although typically less effective than DEET and requiring more frequent applications, natural repellants are a great alternative for young children or those who are allergic to repellents containing DEET.


  • Permethrin. Unlike DEET, which is used as a topical repellent, permethrin is an insecticide applied only to fabrics - primarily clothing and mosquito netting. It is a synthetic formulation of a natural insecticide produced by chrysanthemum flowers, and is non-staining and odorless. Although highly toxic to insects, permethrin, when used correctly, is not hazardous to humans, as very little is absorbed through the skin, and any that is absorbed is quickly metabolized.
  • BugsAway® Clothing by ExOfficio® does the work for you!  The Insect Shield® treatment binds permethrin to fabric fibers, resulting in effective, odorless insect protection that’s EPA registered, recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization, and is effective for up to 70 washings.

What about hotel bedding?

Hotel bedspreads are not washed daily – in fact they may be cleaned just once a month or less, and blankets and pillows are not on the daily laundry list either. As soon as you enter your room, remove the bedspread, fold it up, and stow it in a corner for the duration of your stay. To avoid contact with pillows and blankets, use a sleep sack. To check for bedbugs, look for small rusty or dark brown spots on the bedding, mattress, and in the corners of the room. Protect yourself from infestation by treating bedding, carpet, walls, corners and drawers with bedbug spray, and treat the outside of your luggage before you bring it inside your home.

More About Malaria

Where does malaria occur?
Large areas of Central and South America, Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic), Africa, the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Oceania are considered malaria-risk areas.

What are the signs and symptoms of malaria?
Symptoms of malaria include fever and flu-like illness, including shaking chills, headache, muscle aches, and tiredness. Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea may also occur. Malaria may cause anemia and jaundice (yellow coloring of the skin and eyes) due to the loss of red blood cells. Infection with one type of malaria, P. falciparum, if not promptly treated, may cause kidney failure, seizures, mental confusion, coma, and death.

How soon will a person feel sick after being bitten by an infected mosquito?
For most people, symptoms begin ten days to four weeks after infection, although a person may feel ill as early as eight days or up to one year later. Two strains of malaria, P. vivax and P. ovale, can relapse; some parasites can rest in the liver from several months to four years after a person is bitten by an infected mosquito. When these parasites come out of hibernation and begin invading red blood cells, the person will become sick.

Any traveler who becomes ill with a fever or flu-like illness while traveling and up to one year after returning home should immediately seek professional medical care. You should tell your health care provider that you have been traveling in a malaria-risk area.

How can malaria and other travel-related illnesses be prevented?

  • Visit your health care provider 4-6 weeks before foreign travel for any necessary vaccinations and a prescription for an antimalarial drug. Click here for Travel Clinics at Home and Abroad.
  • Take your antimalarial drug exactly on schedule without missing doses.
  • Prevent mosquito and other insect bites. Use insect repellent on exposed skin and flying insect spray in the room where you sleep.
  • Wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts, especially from dusk to dawn. This is the time when mosquitoes that spread malaria bite.
  • Sleep under a mosquito bednet that has been dipped in permethrin insecticide if you are not living in screened or air-conditioned housing.

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