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Tips for preventing insect and animal bites

Animals and insects can be carriers of a range of diseases that you really want to avoid on your travels. Here are some tips to help you avoid animal bites and prevent or reduce the risks of getting bitten by insects while you’re travelling.


Animals are well known for being carriers of a range of infections and diseases which can be transmitted to humans. The most notable of these is Rabies. Rabies is common in parts of the world. It is commonly carried by mammals such as dogs, cats, bats and monkeys. Although Rabies in humans is rare, it can be transmitted to you through a bite or scratch from an infected animal.

If you do get bitten or scratched by an animal whilst on holiday we recommend you wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water, apply an anti-septic and, if required, seek medical advice immediately to get post exposure rabies prevention treatment rabies.

Find out more about Rabies


There are more insects in the world than any other species. It therefore makes sense to understand the dangers around being bitten by an insect while you are travelling. Protecting yourself from insects is one of the best preventative measures you can take when travelling, especially in tropical and developing countries.

Although most insect bites will only result in localised skin irritation, itching and swelling, some insect bites can transmit infections and diseases which may be difficult to treat and can be fatal if you get them.

There are preventative vaccinations available for many insect-borne diseases such as Malaria, Dengue Fever, African Sleeping Sickness, Sand Fly Fever, West Nile Virus and Leishmaniasis; however, even if you have had a preventative vaccine, we recommend taking other preventative measures to avoid being bitten in the first place.


Mosquito bites are usually harmless. Unfortunately this is not always the case. In some countries, mosquitoes can carry diseases such as Malaria, Yellow Fever and Japanese Encephalitis which are preventable with vaccines. However not all mosquito-borne diseases are vaccine-preventable such as the Zika Virus and Dengue Fever.

Most mosquitoes bite during the twilight hours (from dusk to dawn), although this is not always the case. The mosquitoes that carry Yellow Fever, Zika Virus and Dengue Fever will bite during the day as well.

Tips to help you avoid mosquito bites

  • Use insect repellent, a safe and effective option for everyone, including children and pregnant or nursing mums.

    • Use repellents as directed
    • Children under 2 should be protected using mosquito nets (mosquito nets with an elastic edge offer better protection)
    • DEET formulations as high as 50% (and a minimum of 20%) are recommended for adults and children over 2 months of age
    • If applying sunscreen and insect repellent, apply the sunscreen first followed by the insect repellent
    • Don't apply insect repellent under clothing
    • Don't apply repellent to open cuts, wounds or irritated skin
    • If using a spray or aerosol repellent, don't spray in enclosed areas or inhale vapours. Don't spray your face directly, rather spray your hands and then apply to your face.
    • Don't let children apply their own insect repellent. Apply the repellent to your hands first and then apply to your children. Children often put their hands in their mouth so don’t apply to their hands. Apply sparingly around the ears.
    • Remember to wash areas with repellent on with soap and water when you go indoors. It is advisable to wash repellent off before going to bed.
  • If possible, wear long-sleeve shirts (tucked in), long pants and hats to cover your exposed skin.

  • Purchase permethrin-treated clothing or treat clothing with permethrin.

    • Permethrin is not for use directly on your skin; however when treated with permethrin-containing insect repellents clothing, shoes, tents, mosquito nets and other gear will provide greater protection.
    • Permethrin-treated clothing is effective for up to 5 washes.
  • Reduce the number of mosquitoes around by emptying standing water from containers such as buckets or flowerpots as mosquitoes breed in water.

  • Try to use accommodation that is air conditioned and has window/door screens to keep mosquitoes out.

    • If you are unable to keep all the mosquitoes out sleep under a mosquito bed net. Bed nets should be tucked in under the mattress and can be sprayed with repellent if not already treated with insecticide.

Bed nets, repellents containing DEET, and permethrin should be purchased before traveling and can be found in camping, sporting goods, and travel clinics. Overseas, permethrin or a similar insecticide, deltamethrin, may be purchased to treat bed nets and clothes.

It is advisable to talk to your travel doctor if you are travelling to a high-risk destination, especially if you have small children or are pregnant. As there is no vaccine available for the prevention of the Zika Virus yet and it spreads from the mother to the foetus, pregnant women should avoid travel to infected areas.


Ticks are small parasites that feed on human and animal blood. There are more than 800 species of tick around the world and although they aren't all harmful, some ticks can spread serious bacterial and viral diseases.

Protect yourself from tick bites by:

  • avoid tick-infested areas such as wooded areas, tall grass

  • walk on cleared trails when possible

  • wearing appropriate clothing

    • long sleeved shirts, tucked in
    • long pants tucked into socks
    • light coloured clothes so ticks can be easily seen before they attach to your skin
    • wear a hat
    • closed shoes
    • permethrin-treated clothing can help repel ticks
  • apply an insect repellent containing diethyl-meta-toluamide (DEET) or picaridin to the skin. Re-apply repellent as recommended on the label

  • check children for ticks regularly


  • if you've been in an area where ticks may be present

    • carefully check clothing and your body especially your skin folds, behind your ears, back of your head and neck. Use a full length mirror to check or get someone else to help you
    • remove all clothing immediately and place in a dryer for 20 minutes to kill any ticks that may be on the clothing
  • avoid staying in structures that use thatch or foliage for roofing and are poorly constructed

Removing ticks right away can prevent some infections. To remove a tick:

  1. Use fine-tipped forceps or a specialized tick-removal tool. Do not touch the tick with bare hands.
  2. Grab the tick as close as possible to where the tick’s mouth is embedded in your skin, not around its swollen body which will be above your skin.
  3. Gently pull the tick straight out until its mouth lets go of your skin. Do not twist the tick as this could break off the tick’s body and leave the head in your skin.
  4. Wash the area of the tick bite with soap and water, and then wash your hands.

If you have an allergic reaction, have difficulty removing the tick or suffer any symptoms after removal, seek immediate medical advice.


Bed bugs are small, flat, reddish insects that can be between 1mm -7mm in size. They can be found all over the world. They are becoming more common as people travel more and they hitch rides on clothing or in luggage. Although bed bugs don’t transmit diseases, they can cause allergic reactions and itching.

The best action to avoid bed bugs is to thoroughly check your accommodation before you settle in. Check the edges of the mattress, the bed frame and inside the linen. Rusty brown spots of dried blood on the sheets is a tell tale sign that bed bugs are present. Check for dead bed bugs on the bed, bed head, sofa, chairs and behind tables and desks.

If you find bed bugs, ask for another room or find alternative accommodation. If you can’t, make sure you leave your luggage on the floor. Don’t unpack your clothing and only take out when needed. Check clothing before putting it on. Dirty clothing should be kept in plastic bags and washed / dried on the hottest cycles. When you get home, unpack in the garage and carry items to the washing machine in bags to be washed.

Bed bug bites take about 2 days to show up. They usually occur in concentrated lines or areas. Don’t scratch – apply an antiseptic cream and take an antihistamine if itching is bad. Scratching can lead to a secondary skin infection.


Mosquitoes, ticks and bed bugs are not the only biting insects you need to beware of in your travels. Parts of Africa carry Tsetse fly which causes sleeping sickness and swimming in some parts of Africa, such as Malawi, may put you at risk of Bilharzia – tiny worms that penetrate the skin which may travel to and infect various parts of the body.

Although your risk of getting an insect-borne disease is low, you can reduce the risk considerably more by taking the same precautions a suggested for mosquitoes and tick bites and ensuring you get any preventative vaccinations recommended for your destination.

The travel advice above references and acknowledges advice from the CDC, WHO and NSW Health.

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