If traveling long term it is likely that you will find yourself at some point in an area where there are mosquitoes are- a common source of disease- and may come across another biting insect, the bed bug. These are especially prevalent in hostels and other types of budget accommodation that many backpackers stop in, and although the health problems associated with the former may be more serious, a bite from a bed bug can still be painful and require medical attention, which is obviously not ideal when you want to be out and about enjoying yourself.
So what can you do to avoid bites from these little creatures, or failing that treat them so they don’t lead to medical problems?
It is a little known fact that it is only female mosquitoes that pierce the skins of their victims and suck blood, and they do this to obtain the proteins they need to produce eggs. They target some people more than others because of the smell of their sweat. Bloodsucking by mosquitoes normally happens at dawn or dusk as the females tend to find a cool spot to rest in the heat of the day, and start by injecting saliva into the skin to stop the blood clotting as it is being sucked out.
Most species of mosquitoes are to be found in tropical and subtropical countries in Africa, Asia, South America and the Caribbean. Many of the countries where they are common are extremely poor and lack the resources required to combat the spread of these insects (for example by draining the swamps where they breed) or to treat effectively the diseases which they spread, thus it is imperative you carry appropriate protection and medication if you are heading to an area where you know you will find them.
Symptoms of mosquito bites
The symptoms of mosquito bites include:
- redness around the bite
- swelling around the bite
The redness and itching are caused by the body’s immune system reacting to mosquito saliva. The symptoms can be visible immediately in especially sensitive people or, at the other extreme, the reaction to the mosquito bites can be delayed by several hours.
How to avoid and treat mosquito bites
The best thing is obviously to try to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes in the first place. There are two main ways of doing this: by creating a physical barrier between the mosquitoes and your skin (long sleeved clothes, mosquito nets over your bed while you are sleeping) or spraying an insect repellent (either chemical or made from natural oils like castor, clove, lemongrass or fennel) onto your skin to stop you being bitten. keeping your skin cool also helps, and using unscented soap or showering without soap will attract them less. If you are bitten, you can treat the symptoms with itching medicine, antihistamines or, in severe cases, steroids. Tea tree oil can also help to reduce the itching and swelling associated with mosquito bites.
The bed bug is a parasitic insect which, like the mosquito, feeds on human blood. Bed bugs do most of their feeding at night when their victims are asleep, in bed, and do not realize what is happening.
Symptoms of bed bug bites
The symptoms of bed bug bites include:
- a red rash on the skin, sometimes with a dark spot in the middle
- spots which appear on the face, neck, arms or hands in a line or cluster
How to spot and get rid of bed bugs
The bed bug is a small insect but is easily visible with the naked eye. They also have a distinctive smell which is often a sign of bed bug infestation in a room. You may also notice some reddish brown stains.
Bed bugs live in dark places where they lay their eggs. As the name suggests, they are normally found in bed mattresses but can also live under wallpaper, behind walls or even in your clothes. You can get rid of them with either by spraying your bed with pesticides or by vacuuming it.
How to treat bed bug bites
The itching associated with bed bug bites can be treated using steroid creams or oral antihistamines which will quickly relieve the discomfort of this. Should the itching lead to excessive scratching, any bacterial infections in the affected areas will need to be treated with antibiotics which your doctor can prescribe for you- or simple buy over the counter in the country you are in if you don’t carry them with you in the first place.
I have only been bitten once by bed bugs and the itching lasted more than a week- the scars lasted much more. I did not have the appropriate medication nor was it available (we were in a small island off the East coast of Malaysia) but it did serve as a wake up call as to how uncomfortable the bites can be. The itching appeared to intensify during the nights and it was difficult to sleep, which I did with but waking up often and not resting as needed. Luckily, it has not happened again.But…
Has it happened to you? Have you been bit by bed bugs? Or heaps of mosquitoes? Share your anecdote with us in the comments section below, and any more tips you might have on how to deal with these insects bites´! Please don’t forget to share this post if you think others might find it useful or could provide interesting info…thanks!
[Photo credit @ Flickr bed bug by Lynn Friedman, mosquito by eyeweed]