I’m not a huge fan of mosquitoes. Ditto having thousands of tiny fruit flies hanging around my handlebars, feeding moisture out of the slipstream of air behind my head before being sucked into my nose. Neither do I like horse flies that dive bomb from overhanging trees and bite through cycling shirts.
As we travel away from Europe the list of diseases we are at risk of encountering seems to increase in steady increments in line with the increased density of bug life. We are hoping to get through most of our planned Russian cycling before the the insect world wakes up from its winter slumber, but as we head first east, then south into warmer climes flying and biting things (not to mention flying biting stinging things) will be unavoidable.
Now we’ve nailed down a little more of our route, we’ve started looking into what we’ll need to arm ourselves against in the bug world over the next twelve months.
Please note: We’re not travel health professionals. Go see a travel health doctor before you head away.
I’ve spent some this winter reading through the relevant country information pages of the following travel health resources:
If you’re planning on cycling through a potential malaria risk zone, its worthwhile looking at the WHO malaria map (or the more detailed Travax one) to get a clear picture of actual risk in the areas where you’re likely to be travelling.
We checked our travel health vaccination records against recommendations and ensured that all vaccinations that were recommended were up to date. When we returned to London to pick up our tent we checked in with a travel health nurse.
We’ll be increasing efforts to reduce bites on the rest of this trip if only because there are a few nasty insect spread diseases which we would rather avoid. The insect bite prevention fact sheets from NaTHNaC provides detailed information about measures travellers can take. Here are the specifics we’ve considered:
- Insect repellent – We will get a resupply of DEET based Bushman insect repellent sent out from New Zealand.
- Permethrin-treated camp clothing – We’ll carry a clothing spray which contains Permethrin which we’ll spray on a designated set of camp clothing for evening protection as soon as the mosquitoes get fierce. Each application should last up to 6 weeks however the container failed the first hurdle by leaking in our luggage on the flight back from London. I’ve also swapped out a pair of dark green woollen trousers for light brown hiking pants for camp wear.
- Mosquito nets and hats – We tried on mosquito net hats during our flying visit to London but decided against purchasing them as we have stuff bags made of similar netting which should be as effective if needed. We’ll look to purchase a mosquito net in China or South East Asia but also anticipate we’ll be able to afford hotel rooms with adequate protection in that part of the world.
With the South East Asia part of our trip still in the far distance, malaria prevention has left us scratching heads a little. We might be in risk areas in Southern China, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam for up to six months depending on where our travels take us, but we’re still not planning to fix this part of the route until we’ve made it out of Mongolia.
For the areas that we are going through it looks like Doxycycline is the most suitable malaria prophylactic. While this research from HPA reassures that long term travellers could take the appropriate anti-malarial for the length of their trip, travel health clinics in the UK and Turkey are unable to prescribe for that length of time.
We’ve had a prescription written for this in Istanbul but it should be possible to pick up the same tablets from reputable pharmacies in China or South East Asia. We may still take a small supply from Istanbul but we’re concerned they’ll bake in panniers over summer.
Perhaps cost and bulk of tablets required put some cycle tourists off, but we’ve been unable to find many mentions of cycle tourists taking malaria prevention tablets while touring. Amaya and Eric have shared their experiences over at World Biking but the majority of cycle tourists we have asked have said they just relied on bite prevention to keep them out of trouble.
Travel health should be taken seriously, so if you’ve decided to go travelling talk to a travel health professional, research your chosen destinations and take precautions fit for where you’re headed. It may not be the most exciting part of your trip planning but it may just help you stay healthy while you’re on the road.