Dame Kelly Holmes

Holidaymakers urged to protect themselves against mosquito-borne diseases

With long haul travel on the rise, holidaymakers are being urged to take precautions to prevent bites in order to protect themselves from mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue and Zika when they travel.

The Bug Off! campaign is run by ARCTEC at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. Among those backing the 2016 campaign are former Olympian, Dame Kelly Holmes, and British explorer and presenter of Walking the Americas, Levison Wood.

A 2015 survey of 200 people at Heathrow airport, carried out by ARCTEC, revealed that 74% of travellers head to tropical destinations without seeking health advice.

60% of those surveyed said they did not use an insect repellent when travelling, with only one in ten claiming they know how to apply it properly – putting themselves at risk of diseases. 35% of people said they wouldn’t use insect repellent on children and an additional 30% admitted they never bother to read the instructions if they do decide to apply it.

The annual Bug Off! campaign aims to raise awareness of the issues and educate the public about how best to protect against mosquito-borne diseases. The 2016 campaign includes a spoof of the infamous ‘Are you beach body ready?’ advert from 2015, with the Bug Off! team encouraging British travellers to get ‘Bug Body Ready’ for their trips abroad.

Dr James Logan, Associate Professor of Medical Entomology and Director of ARCTEC at the School, said: ““Everyone should travel the world, it’s an amazing place, but the key is to do it safely. Almost a third of travellers (31%) are unaware of the risks posed by mosquitoes on their holiday, and our aim is to save lives by creating a loud buzz around the importance of staying safe when travelling abroad.  Get your packing list right. Cover up with long sleeves and trousers, preferably treated with an insecticide, and always take the correct repellent.”

Dame Kelly Holmes said: “I’ve been very privileged as an athlete to travel the world and compete, but now I’m retired it gives me time to actually discover new places, which I love. But I’m a person who definitely attracts bugs – I get covered in bites – I learnt the hard way when I did Mission Survive with Bear Grylls.” Dame Kelly made sure she was bug body ready by packing her repellent when she travelled to Rio to support Team GB this summer.

To protect yourself from bites, Dr Logan and colleagues advise:

  • Getting advice from your GP or travel health clinic prior to travelling
  • Using the right insect repellent –  if you are going to a high risk tropical area, make sure the ingredient list includes one of the following: DEET (20-50%) or PMD. Alternatives for lower risk areas are Picaridin or IR3535
  • Covering up with long-sleeve tees and light weight trousers, preferably treated with insecticide

To address the lack of health advice sought in advance of holiday travel, the arctec team held a pop-up travel clinic in collaboration with MASTA’s travel health nurses at Heathrow’s terminal two this month, providing deckchair consultations to holidaymakers jetting off abroad.

The campaign will continue into the autumn with further pop up clinics at busy travel hubs. Arctec scientists will also be visiting local schools and linking them with schools in Tanzania, Colombia, Brazil and South Africa, so that children in different countries can share their experiences.

The 2016 Bug Off! campaign is run by ARCTEC in association with Craghoppers.