Lowdown on Tropical Diseases & Mosquito Defence

Avoiding mosquito and insect bites during your gap year is paramount to preventing pain, discomfort and in some more unfortunate cases, deadly diseases such as Malaria and Dengue Fever.

When you’re planning the trip of a lifetime, mosquito defence can often be the last thing on your mind, but a relaxed attitude to bite and sting prevention can often lead to a much less pleasant gap year experience.

Malaria & Tropical Diseases

Some of the most stunning and exotic destinations may well look idyllic, However, these tend to be the countries with the highest risk of contracting diseases such as Malaria, Dengue Fever, Japanese Encephalitis and Yellow Fever.


Disease Symptoms Vaccination/Medication Available?
Malaria Vomiting, diarrhoea, muscle pain, chills, sweats, headache, high temperature of 38°C or higher Anti-Malarial tablets – Take prior to and during your trip
Yellow Fever Headache, fever, muscle and joint pain, loss of appetite and vomiting (Jaundice & severe bleeding in more   serious cases) Vaccine
Dengue Fever Pain behind the eyes, high fever, vomiting, severe headache, joint and muscle pain No
Japanese Encephalitis Headache, stiff neck, confusion, coma. Vaccine


Malaria is a tropical disease caused by the parasite, Plasmodium, which is carried by infected mosquitoes and transmitted through their bites.

Once inside our body, Plasmodium can have devastating effects if not detected and treated immediately. The parasites begin by attacking the liver and will move on to infect the red blood cells, resulting in reduced blood flow to vital organs.

It is highly recommended that traveller’s visiting countries with a high malaria risk take anti-malarial medication both before and during their trip, your GP will be able to recommend the medication best suited to you and your destination.

Common anti-malarial medications available include Chloroquine, Doxycycline and Mefloquine, it has been reported that mosquitoes in some destinations have built a resistance to certain anti-malarial drugs, so it is essential that you select the most effective one for your trip.

Dengue Fever is a mosquito-borne infection, which can be also be avoided with the right mosquito defence regime. There is currently no available treatment for this condition.

Other insect and mosquito-borne diseases include Japanese Encephalitis and Yellow Fever, Vaccines are available for both of these diseases, so ensure you speak with your GP about this at least 6-8 weeks before travelling.

How to Avoid Getting Bitten or Stung

Where medication and vaccines are not available, A vigilant mosquito defence regime is essential in the prevention of bites and disease.

First and foremost, think about your wardrobe, when you’re travelling to hot and exotic destinations, it can be easy to get carried away with shorts, vest tops and other revealing clothing. Don’t make this mistake, as Mosquitoes are likely to target you if you leave too much skin exposed!

Mosquitoes are drawn to areas of the body where the blood flows closest to the skin’s surface, this includes the wrists, ankles and neck. Bites can be avoided by following these simple tips:

  1. Wear long sleeved clothing when possible
  2. Apply mosquito repellent to exposed areas of skin
  3. Avoid wearing brightly coloured clothing

The second preventative step would be to use an effective insect repellent, the most popular insect repellents on the market contain DEET (Diethyl Toluamide), an effective insecticide which helps to prevent insect landings, bites and stings by interfering with the receptors on insect’s antennae, making it difficult for them to detect our presence.

However, traveller’s with more sensitive skin may decide to opt for a natural option and use a DEET free repellent. These types of repellent often tend to contain ingredients such as Eucalyptus oil extract and natural oils.

Another common alternative active ingredient in DEET free repellents is Picaridin (Icaridin), this chemical has proven to be effective in repelling mosquitoes and other insects, as well as being kinder to skin in comparison to DEET formulas.


Mosquito Repellent Strengths

There are currently several mosquito repellent strengths available, the one you require will all depend on your destination and the risk of Malaria and other diseases. Here are some examples of repellents which are currently available on the market, along with their benefits.

Repellent Active Ingredient Advantages/Disadvantages Strength

Lifesystems Expedition 20

20% DEET (Diethyl Toluamide) Medium level protection, one application lasts for up to 8 hours.
Suitable for children aged 3 years+

ecoguardEcoGuard Extreme

20% Icaridin

Suitable for sensitive skin, suitable for children aged over 2 years, proven to be more effective than 50% DEET formulas. DEET free.Disadvantage: Requires more regular applications. Mid-High

Lifesystems Natural Plus 30+


Eucalyptus Oil extract Suitable for children ages aged 6 months +, suitable for sensitive skin, DEET free. Mid-High

Lifesystems Expedition 50


50% DEET (Diethyl Toluamide)

Up to 10 hours protection per   application, high strength repellent


Repel 55

55% DEET (Diethyl Toluamide)

High DEET concentration, long lasting.


Repel 100

95% DEET (Diethyl-Toluamide) Long lasting formula, highly   effective, suitable for high risk malaria areas.Disadvantages: Oily, high concentration formula, sometimes unsuitable for more sensitive skin. High


Although mosquitoes tend to be most active between dusk and dawn, the mosquitoes which carry the dengue fever infection are active during the day, so you must always ensure you have applied your insect repellent, day or night!

Insect repellents can also be used to treat clothing, but can have adverse effects on certain fabrics as well as on plastics, DEET acts as a solvent when it comes into contact with plastics, so it’s wise to keep it away from any plastic items.

Permethrin fabric sprays are widely available and can be used to treat mosquito nets, clothing and other travel gear such as backpacks.


Protecting Yourself During the Night – Mosquito Nets & Repellent Devices

With Malaria carrying mosquitoes being active between dusk and dawn a decent impregnated mosquito net is an essential piece of travel kit, providing maximum mosquito protection whilst you sleep.

Mosquito nets come in a range of shapes including box, bell, ridge and wedge and are also available in single or double sizes. Each style of net has it’s own specific benefits which will help you decide which net is best suited to your needs and type of accommodation.

  • Wedge Nets:  These nets typically have a singular hanging point, making them much easier to hang compared to other styles. Some wedge nets also feature a spreader bar at the top, which increases the sleeping and living space inside the net.


  • Box Nets: These offer a larger sleeping and living area, which is ideal for traveller’s who feel claustrophobic in enclosed spaces. These nets have four hanging points (one on each corner), a mosquito net hanging kit would be a handy accessory to have with you when hanging one of these nets.


  • Ridge Nets:  This style is ideal for use in outdoor environments as they can be hanged between two trees or two fixed points. They have two hanging points and the net shape resembles that of a traditional tent.


  • Bell Nets : Offering plenty of sleeping and living space inside, bell nets are another great option for the claustrophobic traveller. These often feature a singular hanging point with a spreader bar at the top to provide more space.


  • Freestanding Nets : These nets are constructed with a frame, simply remove them from their packaging and they will self-erect.


The World Health Organization recommend using a net with no less than 156 holes per square inch. The higher the hole count per square inch, the more effective the mosquito net will be.

You may also find that Mosquito repellent plug-in devices are effective in repelling mosquitoes and other insects, these are normally available with tablet refills but liquid refills are also available. The most common active ingredient used in refill liquids and tablets is Prallethrin, a safe and widely used insecticide.

Mosquito coils are also a great option for repelling mosquitoes, but these are only suitable for outdoor use.