Zika virus was the most recent in a string of mosquito-borne illnesses to make headlines when its presence in the Caribbean and nearby countries spiked in 2016. And though it's not in the news as frequently now, Zika, and some of its news-making predecessors like dengue and chikungunya, still exist in the tropics.

AIG Travel physician adviser Dr. Misty Laughlin recently held a webinar about mosquito-borne diseases and how to prevent them. 

"As summer heats up in the Northern Hemisphere and mosquito season begins, the risk of Zika and other mosquito-borne diseases like dengue, chikungunya, yellow fever and West Nile will also rise," Laughlin said.

Generally, agents are legally obligated to inform clients of dangers the agency knows about but the client would not have known about; in its early days, Zika was considered one of those items, as it was widely reported in trade publications but not in the consumer press. Regardless, when it comes to notification of medical risks, most attorneys advise agents to direct clients to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and have them sign directing them to do the same. 

As the season picks up, client questions likely will, too. In addition to directing clients to the CDC — which has a number of resources on mosquito bite prevention and the various diseases that mosquitoes can spread — here are some basics from Laughlin on preventing mosquito bites (she also recommends the World Health Organization as a resource in addition to the CDC).

According to Laughlin, mosquito-borne diseases will kill approximately 1 million people worldwide each year. That makes the mosquito the deadliest insect in the world.

Mosquitoes are particularly problematic in tropical regions (especially during rainy season), which include Central America, parts of South America, the Caribbean, much of Africa, most of India, Southeast Asia and Indonesia.

Laughlin noted that the risk of getting a mosquito-borne illness ranges widely from region to region and season to season. She advised travelers to research health risks in their destinations before they go so they can take proper precautions (for instance, getting vaccines or antimalarial tablets).

"Your best bet for preventing mosquito-borne illnesses is to avoid exposure to mosquitoes," Laughlin said. "No measure is 100% effective, [but] first of all, protect yourself from mosquito bites."

Laughlin recommended using insect repellent and insecticide to reduce bites, following the instructions on the label. She noted that pregnant and breastfeeding women can use EPA-registered repellents, including DEET, if they properly follow instructions.

Avoid outdoor activities when mosquitoes are most likely to be out — at dawn and dusk. Wearing long-sleeved shirts, pants and socks outdoors can also be helpful.

When choosing a hotel, Laughlin recommended ones that either have air conditioning or are well screened.

Homeowners should install roof gutters.

Additionally, Laughlin said children's strollers and outdoor playpens should be covered in mosquito netting, and unused swimming pools and containers with standing water should be emptied. 

Laughlin also discussed some recent research that might help demystify why some people are more prone to mosquito bites than others.

"The current research shows that it's not that the people [who don't seem to be prone] are not getting bitten," she said, "but it's that they don't react to the bite as [much] as the people who are the mosquito magnets."

In addition to information about mosquito bites in general, the CDC also offers a number of pages on specific mosquito-borne diseases, including Zika, dengue, chikungunya, yellow fever and West Nile.
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