Although mosquitoes are present year round in Thailand, populations peak during the rainy season from May to September. Whether you live in Thailand or are just traveling through, here are some of the risks associated with mosquitoes and how to prevent these pests from biting you.
Common diseases spread by mosquitoes
Beyond leaving an annoying itch, mosquitoes can also pass along diseases after they bite. In Thailand, mosquitoes are responsible for spreading dengue fever, Japanese encephalitis, lymphatic filariasis, and malaria.
- Dengue Fever: This is prevalent in urban areas and cities such as Bangkok. Symptoms of this virus are typically a mild to severe fever, flu-like symptoms, eye pain, and a body rash.
- Japanese Encephalitis: This disease is common in more rural areas, particularly those that engage in pig farming. This virus affects the lungs and nervous system. Symptoms include headache, fever, nausea, and confusion.
- Lymphatic Filariasis: This is common in urban and semi-urban areas. After being bitten by an infected mosquito, parasites attack the lymph nodes. This causes profound swelling, skin thickening and disfiguring, particularly in the lower extremities.
- Malaria: This is sometimes present in the rural areas that border Thailand’s neighboring countries of Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar. Symptoms of this parasitic disease include cycles of high fever, chills, sweating, and body aches.
Tips for reducing the chance of being bit
In order to prevent the spread and contraction of mosquito-borne illnesses, it is essential to avoid getting bitten by a mosquito.
The first step is to reduce the number of mosquitoes around you. Mosquitoes thrive in cool dark areas with unmoving water. Protect yourself by removing or securing all items that can collect water and act as mosquito breeding grounds. When possible, avoid areas with still water such as shallow ponds and marshes.
The second step to prevention is creating a barrier between you and the mosquitoes. Make sure that open windows and doors are secured with screens and that sleeping areas are protected by mosquito nets. Wearing pants and long-sleeved shirts will protect your skin from direct attack. However, this is up to your discretion because of the hot tropical temperatures.
Alternatively, spraying mosquito repellant on your skin and clothing or burning mosquito coils nearby will keep mosquito at bay. Sitting in front of a fan will also physically prevent mosquitoes from approaching you because they will not be able to fly against the air current.
A vaccine is available against Japanese encephalitis and there are anti-filarial drugs available for individuals at risk for contracting lymphatic filariasis. There is a short-term preventative drug against malaria, which is more often prescribed for travelers and not residents of Thailand. There is currently no vaccine against dengue.
Treatment of mosquito-borne illnesses
If you are bitten, apply an ointment or cream containing an anti-inflammatory agent (antihistamine) or menthol to sooth your skin. Refrain from scratching to reduce the chances of infection and possible scarring. In many cases, the itching and swelling will subside within a few days with no other adverse effects or infections.
If you suspect you have symptoms of a mosquito-borne illness, we encourage you to see a doctor. A simple blood test will confirm if you are infected. You may be admitted to the hospital for several days until the worst of the symptoms subside. Children, pregnant women, and the elderly will be under particularly watchful care.
Even with these tips, there is no prevent-all from mosquito attacks. However, taking charge by reducing the number of mosquitoes around you and protecting your skin will significantly reduce the chances of getting bitten.