The mosquito borne Zika virus is more of a worry for residents of those zones than it is for travelers. The main people who have to worry are women who are looking to become pregnant within a year. You can see the whole rundown from the CDC here.
Mosquitoes carry plenty of other viruses and diseases though, like malaria and dengue fever. So while we view mosquito bites as a summer annoyance in the USA, Canada, and Europe, in the tropics it’s a different story. You need to at least try to avoid getting any bites. Plus with Zika now reported in Miami, it could spread to areas that haven’t had to worry about diseases from these pests for a generation.
There are plenty of steps to take to reduce your risk of bites. Here are a few to consider if your travels will take you to affected areas.
Insect Repellent with Plenty of DEET
I’ve tried a whole slew of natural bug repellents and understand how parents want to keep chemicals off the sensitive skin of their children. Unfortunately, very few of them are really effective (All Terrain is probably the best). The CDC only recommends one ingredient as being effective—lemon eucalyptus—and the natural solutions need to be reapplied every 15-20 minutes.
The safe bet is one containing DEET, as this is still the best solution on the market for battling the bugs. Choose a brand with a healthy amount of it included, preferably 30% or more. You can find plenty of options at REI, Target, or even your local drugstore. If you prefer shopping at Amazon you can get this 100% DEET option or this 25% one from Off.
Insect Shield Clothing
While this won’t provide a full solution, clothing treated with permethrin can provide another layer of protection against biting insects. InsectShield clothing is marketed with names like BugsAway, Nosilife, and others depending on the brand, but it’s the same general treatment and the effectiveness lasts for around 70 washings. We’ve had good experiences with socks, pants, hats, and shirts from quality brands. Follow these links for ExOfficio and Craghoppers.
You can do a DIY job with any clothing you already have though by buying spray-on permethrin. It doesn’t leave a stain and humans can’t smell it.
Half the battle is just covering up though. Always wear long-sleeve shirts, socks, and pants when mosquitoes are out an biting (especially at dusk) and put bug spray on any exposed areas. Light-colored clothing is best, both because it’s less attractive to the bugs and because you can see them more easily in contrast.
Mosquito Nets and Coils
If you’re staying in a resort that is in an effected area, chances are they’re taking real precautions for you with screens on the windows and a mosquito net over the bed. Some will use plug-in repellent devices or mosquito coils during turndown to keep your sleeping quarters cleared. Use the net and close any openings.
Again, if you’re a pregnant mother or a woman planning to become pregnant, you might want to hold out for a vaccine. For everyone else, Zika is not as scary as many other tropical maladies. You can avoid most of the others too though by being smart with precautions.