Your Guide to Insect Borne-Diseases

We are in the dead of summer right now which means there are insects everywhere! Many insects (including mosquitoes, ticks, fleas, etc.) can spread diseases, many of which cannot be treated with a vaccine or medication. I would like to tell you about some different insect-borne diseases and how to prevent them. This is especially important for those traveling outside of the U.S. (think Mexico and the Caribbean).


The most common diseases transmitted by mosquitoes are Zika virus, dengue, and chikungunya virus. The Zika outbreak has been a hot topic in public health due to the birth defects it can cause.

Dengue is most commonly found in the tropics and subtropics and is a leading cause of illness and death in these areas. Only about one-fourth of people with dengue will develop mild viral symptoms (think headache, muscle pain, rash) but symptoms can quickly become severe and even fatal. Early recognition is key.

Chikungunya virus often brings on sudden fever and joint pain. This infection is rarely fatal but can produce severe, debilitating joint pain.  Outbreaks have occurred in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

Zika virus is a concern especially for women who are pregnant or may become pregnant. It is most commonly transmitted through mosquito bites but can also be transmitted sexually. Zika travel notices continue to be issued by the CDC for Mexico, the Caribbean, some countries in Asia, some countries in Africa, Central/South America, and the Pacific Islands. There have been cases reported in Florida and Texas but no U.S. states are under advisory. Click here to get the most up-to-date travel advisories from the CDC. Know before you go!

Pregnant women should completely avoid travel to any area where Zika virus is spreading. However, if they must travel, they should speak with their provider first and take strict precautions to avoid mosquito bites. If a female was exposed to Zika virus, she should wait at least 8 weeks after last possible exposure/symptoms before trying to conceive. If a male partner has been exposed, he needs to wait at least 6 months after last possible exposure/symptoms before trying to conceive. During this period, use abstinence or condoms.


Tick-borne diseases are among the most common travel-related illnesses. Preventing tick bites, checking for ticks, and removing ticks are essential in preventing disease. Diseases spread by ticks include Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Tick-borne diseases are often characterized by a distinctive rash (example: Lyme disease produces a target or bullseye rash). These diseases produce typical viral symptoms such as headache, fatigue, and muscle aches.

Ticks are often found in high grass and heavily wooded areas. It can take several hours before a tick to attach and begin to transmit disease. Therefore, it is important that you bathe as soon as possible after returning indoors and perform full-body check for ticks. Ticks can also attach to pets and clothing. To remove a tick, use tweezers and grasp tick as close to the skin as possible and pull upwards. Clean the bite thoroughly with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.

Insect Bite Prevention

Take these steps to prevent insect bites! This is much easier than dealing with the consequences of insect-borne illnesses.

  • Wear insect repellant with at least 20% DEET (active ingredient in insect repellants) which protects against ticks and mosquitoes. Apply sunscreen before insect repellant and let it dry
  • Wear loose, long sleeve shirts and pants
  • Use permethrin-treated gear and clothing (permethrin is an insecticide usually used against lice and scabies)
  • Sleep in places that are air conditioned and screened from bugs
  • If sleep area is exposed to outdoors, use a net over the bed

If you become sick after traveling, please be sure you are evaluated by your provider.

Stay safe out there!

I will not be posting next week as I will be in San Francisco for work. I have never been. Anybody have any suggestions for things to do or restaurants to check out? I would greatly appreciate it!

Disclaimer: This post is not to be substituted for medical advice. If you think you are having a problem, contact your own provider who knows your health history