Protecting yourself and your family against biting mosquitoes

Although there are vaccines and medication to protect against vectorborne diseases (diseases carried by biting arthropods such as mosquitoes) such as malaria and Yellow Fever, the best protection against these diseases is to protect yourself against their bites. The major reason for this is that for some vectorborne disease such as dengue and chikungunya there is no prevention or treatment so preventing mosquito bites is the only method of prevention. Mosquitoes bite in order to feed on blood. Following the precautions below can markedly reduce your chances of being bitten by mosquitoes.

Know when you are likely to be bitten: Mosquitoes can bite at any time of day but they can be predicted with some certainty. Mosquitoes that carry dengue, chikungunya tend to bite during daylight hours. Those that carry malaria tend to bite either at dawn or dusk or during the night. The Aedes mosquito that spreads Zika virus is active during the day as well as at night, so, in Zika-affected areas, it is important to protect yourself from mosquito bites at all times.  Older people and children should tend to remain indoors during these periods if there are a lot of biting mosquitoes around. Mosquitoes bite from April until October in temperate climates and all year round in tropical areas.

Know where you are likely to be bitten: mosquitoes are most frequently found near stagnant water in pools, ponds, old tyres, water gathered on roof tops and other such places.

Wear appropriate clothing: Wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants, boots and socks. Tucked in shirts and closed shoes instead of sandals may reduce the likelihood of being bitten. Clothing may also be treated with insect repellents.

Protect your room: mosquito bites can be reduced by air conditioning, insect-proof screens on windows and doors and spraying the room with insecticide.

Protect your bed: Bed nets and cot nets should be used if rooms are not adequately screened or air conditioned be used if necessary and are particularly effective if treated. If bed nets do not reach the floor, they should be tucked under the mattress.

There is a range of insecticides that can be used on skin and to treat clothes and bed nets. However, the UK's PHE Advisory Committee on Malaria Prevention (ACMP) strongly recommends DEET-based insect repellents as these are the most effective. 

It is important to remember, that if you were born in a malarious part of the world, and you bring your children back on a visit to your country of origin, your children who have been born in Ireland will have no immunity against diseases such as malaria - it is very important to ensure they receive appropriate anti-malarial medication (along with any necessary vaccinations for example against Yellow Fever) and that you minimise the risk of your child being bitten my mosquitoes. 

If you are pregnant, you should seek to prevent mosquito bites in the first instance.  If you are at risk of malaria when travelling, then pregnant women can use DEET as an insect repellent.  CDC and the UK’s Bumps (run by the UK Teratology Information Service) advise that pregnant women can use DEET as a mosquito repellent, if they ensure to a) use it sparingly and b) wash it off when away from risk of biting mosquitoes, as it is a chemical applied to the skin. The risk to a pregnant woman's unborn baby, certainly from malaria, would outweigh any potential risk from DEET.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a useful resource on Protection Against Mosquitoes, Ticks, and Other Insects and Arthropods.

Finally, general advice on protecting your health while travelling is available here.

Last updated: 18 August 2017