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INVASION OF THE BODY SNACKERS
 
(2023 - Fall/Winter Issue)

Writer: REBECCA FIELD JAGER



How to protect against the spread of mosquitoes and their diseases when travelling abroad.
 
When comedian Bill Maher recently quipped how mosquitoes are the all-time serial killer of people even more than sharks, he’s not kidding. Although most bites are harmless, these teeny bloodsuckers are said to be the deadliest animal on earth. In fact, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that vector-borne diseases, including those transmitted by mosquitoes, cause over 700,000 deaths worldwide every year. The burden of these diseases is highest in tropical and subtropical areas.
 
CLIMATE CHANGE: A MOSQUITO’S NEW BEST FRIEND
 
For years, scientists have been ringing the alarm bells about how global warming will make cooler regions more hospitable to mosquitoes and allow them, and the diseases they carry, to spread to new areas. Increased precipitation, higher temperatures and higher humidity, hallmarks of climate change, are a mosquito’s dream. 
 
MOSQUITO MANTRA: HAVE DISEASE, WILL TRAVEL 
 
While it might be hyperbolical to say mosquitoes are taking over the world, it is safe to say their associated diseases are gaining new ground across many popular travel destinations. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that arboviral diseases such as chikungunya and dengue fever have geographically expanded to the Americas. Chikungunya and dengue fever are caused by viral infections which get transmitted to humans by mosquitoes, and while symptoms normally range from body pains to fever, in severe cases they can be deadly. 
 
Outbreaks of these diseases are not only increasing in terms of size but also frequency. Whereas dengue outbreaks used to occur every three to five years, now the time between them is significantly less. 
 
Finally, another mosquito-borne disease that appears to be expanding includes Japanese encephalitis—carried by mosquitoes that breed in stagnant water—which occurs in many Asian countries but has recently been reported across southern Australia where the effects of climate change are believed to be a key driver.
 
SKIRTING SKEETERS AND THEIR DISEASES
 
According to Dr. Wayne Ghesquiere, an infectious diseases and internal medicine specialist based in Victoria, B.C., anyone planning to travel to West or East Africa, Oceania, Japan, India, parts of Southeast Asia and South America should seek professional advice months before boarding the plane. 
 
Malaria prophylaxis, for example, combined with preventative measures such as repellent and bed-netting are an effective way of reducing the risk of malaria, the deadliest of the mosquito-borne diseases. Armed with the latest data and entry requirements, experts can identify which zones of Africa and South America require a vaccine certificate for yellow fever. 
 
Interestingly, Dr. Ghesquiere divides travellers into two groups: vacationers and VFR (Visiting Friends and Relatives)—those who have moved to Canada and are returning to their homeland. Too often, the latter is lulled into thinking they carry natural immunities to certain diseases and do not take appropriate preventative measures. Not surprisingly, both groups benefit from a professional risk assessment. 
 
DON’T BE PART OF A MOSQUITO’S ALL-INCLUSIVE BUFFET
 
Michael Boivin, a pharmacist in Barrie, Ontario agrees that, in the absence of vaccines for many mosquito-borne illnesses, prevention is the best solution. The best defence against disease is to minimize bites to begin with. 
 
A common mistake travellers make, he believes, is that they simply don’t consider the risk. “They think, ‘hey I’m going to a 5-star resort, I’ll be fine,’ but mosquitoes don’t care.” 
 
Boivin makes a good point; scientists refer to bug bites as their way of obtaining a “blood meal” so it’s fitting to think you are potentially part of a mosquito’s all-inclusive buffet. 
 
HOW DO YOU STAY OFF THE MENU? 
 
Repellent, proper clothing, and good ol’ common sense. Boivin recommends using insect repellent containing DEET or icaridin. On average 30% DEET is effective for up to 6.5 hours. Boivin also recommends covering up. Wear full-length, loose-fitting, light-coloured pants and long-sleeve shirts for further protection. 
 
ONCE HOME, SEEK HELP IF YOU FEEL SICK
 
Different diseases present different symptoms, but Dr. Ghesquiere advises seeking medical advice if you develop a fever within up to three months of travelling, diarrhea or any kind of respiratory symptoms up to six months after returning. He emphasizes the importance of telling your healthcare provider that you have travelled, and when and where.
 
Indeed, an ounce of prevention against an insect that weighs a mere 2.5 milligrams could mean a ton of happy memories of your vacation.
 
 
 
 
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