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Insects and animals - travel advice

If you are well prepared, you can prevent your holiday being ruined by pests and disease.

mygg som stikker
Foto: Colourbox.com

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What you need will vary with the season, time of day and whether you stay in urbanor rural areas. Proper clothing, insect nets, insect repellents, vaccines and medicines will contribute to a safe stay. Check your luggage on your return to avoid introducing cockroaches and bedbugs into your home. 

Ticks

The sheep tick, also called the castor bean tick, (Ixodes ricinus) is common along the coast of Norway to Helgeland and can be found in some inland places.

Flått
Foto: Colourbox.com

In Sweden, the tick is prevalent in the southeastern part of the country with the northern boundary from Iddefjorden to Gävle, but there are scattered findings further north, especially along the Gulf of Bothnia. The same applies in Finland with the northern limit along a diagonal line from about 62°N in the west to approximately 64°N in the east. The sheep tick is common throughout most of Europe. It is found in the mountainous regions of North Africa, and in the southwestern parts of Russia, the Caucasus, Turkey and the northern parts of Kazakhstan. Other countries have other tick species.

Ticks suck the blood of birds and mammals, including humans, and can transmit disease. Dress appropriately in areas with a lot of ticks and remove them quickly.

Fleas

Adult fleas need to suck blood from warm-blooded animals or birds to survive and reproduce. Flea larvae feed on organic nest material and faeces from adult fleas. There are over 2,500 species of fleas worldwide but only a few bite humans.

Fugleloppe (Ceratophyllus gallinae). FHI - Hallvard Elven
FHI - Hallvard Elven

 

In Norway, the hen flea (Ceratophyllus spp.) bites humans, often in a short period in late winter / spring. In warmer climates, it is possible to be bitten throughout the year by cat and dog fleas (Ctenocephalides felis and C. canis) and the human flea (Pulex irritans). 

Flea bites can cause severe itching, and bacteria can enter the bite when scratched, causing secondary bacterial infections. Fleas can even transmit microorganisms that cause diseases such as the plague (Yersinia pestis bacteria) and endemic typhus (Rickettsia typhi rickettsiae). 

The best way to prevent fleas during travel is to avoid contact with cats, dogs and other animals, as well as birds and their nests. If you take pets abroad, be aware that they may bring fleas home. On your return, check your pet's fur for fleas with a comb. If your pet has fleas, there are various treatments (shampoo, liniment, flea collars, etc.). Contact your veterinarian for a prescription. Thoroughly vacuum any areas where the pet spends time and use chemicals such as insect growth regulators (IGR) to kill any flea larvae.

Bed bugs

Over recent years, the bed bug problem has increased dramatically worldwide due to insecticide resistance and lack of knowledge about alternative treatment methods. In addition, national and international travel has increased, increasing the risk of proliferation.

Veggedyr
Veggedyr. FHI - Hallvard Elven

Bedbugs are nocturnal insects that suck the blood of sleeping people and cause itchy rashes. The adults are brown and can be up to 6 mm long. The nymphs are smaller and paler, and they develop through 5 stages. The smallest individuals are less than 1 mm long. All stages suck human blood but fortunately do not spread disease. 

Bedbugs are often found in accommodation with a high turnover of guests. Hotels, apartments and cabins are typical examples and there is always a risk that they may enter luggage. On arrival, check for signs of bedbugs. If you find a lot of small black spots on the bed frame, empty insect skins or dead/live bugs, ask for a new room. As a general rule, keep bags or suitcases closed during the entire stay. If you suspect that you have stayed in a room with bedbugs, inspect your luggage. Suitcases and bags have many hiding places and heating or freezing your luggage is recommended before unpacking to reassure yourself that any hidden bedbugs are killed. Due to insecticide resistance, chemical treatment of luggage is ineffective.

Mosquitoes

Mosquitoes can carry many serious diseases. They can spread parasites such as malaria, worms that can cause filariasis, the bacterial disease tularemia and viral diseases such as yellow fever, dengue fever and various types of meningitis. Their bites can be very itchy so there is a potential for secondary infection if bites are scratched

Stikkmygg (Aedes communis). FHI - Hallvard Elven
Aedes communis female. FHI - Hallvard Elven

There are approximately 3,450 different mosquito types in the world. Mosquitoes are widespread globally, except in Antarctica and a few islands. 

There are 38 different species in Norway. Some mosquitoes suck the blood of birds and other amphibians or mammals. All larvae develop in water, but some live in clean ponds or wells, others in dirty water, brackish water, rice fields, meltwater ponds, flowing water, buckets, or puddles in hollow trees or plants. Most mosquitoes are active in the evening and at night, while others are active during the day. 

Mosquitoes locate us by the carbon dioxide in our breath and by different odours from our skin. Some people attract more mosquitoes than others, but what varies most is the individual's tolerance to mosquitoes. Immunity to mosquitoes that bite often will usually develop, so severe swelling and itching can be avoided. However, these same people may experience reactions if they travel to the other countries and are bitten by new types of mosquitoes. Young children often react strongly to their first mosquito bites. 

For some diseases we can protect ourselves with vaccines or use preventive medication, but it is best to avoid being bitten.

Repellents

For centuries, various substances have been used to keep mosquitoes at bay, for example, smoke from a fire. Today, mosquito repellents can be applied to the skin. There are many active substances on the market, and they are sold as oil, sticks, wipes, sprays or roll-ons. The "gold standard" of repellents contains n, n-diethyl-toluamide (DEET). They are effective for up to 6 hours. The substance has low toxicity, but may irritate eyes, nose and the lining of the mouth. Do not use on children under 3 years. The strongest repellents sold in Norway contain 20 % DEET, but stronger ones can be bought abroad. Icaridin is another substance with a similar effect to DEET. There are countless products with various plant oils which may also be effective, but not for as long as DEET. 

Garlic and vitamin B are often mentioned as mosquito repellents but they have no proven effect. There is also no effect from electronic ultrasound appliances that are available. 

Mosquitoes in cabins and tents can be combated with pyrethrum from an aerosol can, a mosquito coil or a tablet in an electrically heated box that emits smoke. Some people experience respiratory reactions and should avoid inhaling the aerosols and smoke.

Mosquito nets

A fine mesh net over any open windows gives effective protection against mosquitoes. 

In countries with malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases, or where you are bothered by mosquitoes at night, it makes sense to use a mosquito net over the bed. It should be as high as possible, but allow 20 cm at the bottom to fold under the mattress so that insects and other animals cannot crawl up the inside. 

If the arms, legs or other body parts touch the netting in the night, the mosquitoes can suck blood through the material. A good measure is to impregnate the net with permethrin or another pyrethroid. The usual dose for permethrin is 0.5 g of active substance per m2. One treatment usually lasts for a few months, less if the netting is exposed to sunlight. New mosquito nets are often impregnated with permethrin, but if not, treat the net yourself.

Clothing

Cover your legs and arms when sitting out among mosquitoes, and apply mosquito repellent to socks and other places where mosquitoes may penetrate.

Sand flies

Sand flies are small, 1.5 to 3 mm long, blood-sucking insects that can the transmit the parasitic disease leishmaniasis, other less serious viral diseases such as pappataci fever, and occasionally in South America, the bacterial Carrión's disease. 

Sandflue. Foto: Ray Wilson, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine
Foto: Ray Wilson, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine

Sand flies are a type of mosquito commonly found in desert and semi-desert conditions. Many species are found in open forests. In South America they can be found in dense tropical rainforests. In Europe, Asia and Africa, most are subtropical. They are common around the Mediterranean and the Middle East, while the species that sucks human blood is uncommon south of the Sahara or in Southeast Asia. They are not found in New Zealand and the Pacific islands. Only the females suck blood. 

There are over 700 different types of sand fly, but only about 70 of them cause problems for humans. Sand flies are easy to distinguish from mosquitoes, black flies and other bloodsucking insects in that their two wings are held diagonally from the body in a V-shape. They do not fly well, with a short “bouncing” flight with frequent landings. They prefer to remain a few hundred yards from where they developed as larvae, although the wind can carry them over long distances. Most remain outdoors, but some species are found indoors. During the day they are still but become active at dusk and at night. 

Sand fly larvae develop in slightly moist soil or sand with access to decaying organic material. They are found in small cracks in the ground and air ducts from termite mounds or burrows. The latter is common in desert regions. Humans supply new habitats, such as guttering and animal cages where larvae can develop in moist soil mixed with animal faeces. Here, the adult sand flies can suck the blood of domestic animals and lay their eggs. In these areas, the population of sand flies can become bothersome. 

It is rare for tourists to be infected by diseases transmitted by sand flies, but many experience skin reactions from bites, especially if bitten for the first time. However, after prolonged stays in areas with a lot of sand flies, some Norwegians have been infected with leishmaniasis. They can be prevented in the same way as mosquitoes. Mosquito repellent, oils and adequate clothing provide good protection. Sand flies are smaller than mosquitoes and can get through standard non-impregnated mosquito nets with mesh size 1.2 to 1.5 mm. It helps if these nets are impregnated with insecticide. There are also special nets for sand flies where the mesh size is down to 0.2 mm but these often feel clammy and hot in a tropical climate. A high cotton net is better than the tight web of plastic. It can be worthwhile checking what is sold locally in the nearest town before travelling into rural or village areas.

Cockroaches

Cockroaches are very common in warmer climates - both indoors and outdoors. Most cockroaches have a flat, oval body, a small head and long threadlike antennae that are often longer than their body. They have thin legs and can run fast. The most common cockroaches that cause damage range in size from 0.5 cm and up to 4.5 cm. 

Tysk kakerlakk (Blattella germanica). FHI - Hallvard Elven
Blattella germanica male. FHI - Hallvard Elven

Cockroaches ruin food by eating it and then soiling it with faeces and a foul-smelling discharge. Cockroaches emit an unpleasant smell. 

They have the greatest economic significance for restaurants and food manufacturers. Cockroaches will also eat paintings, paper, books, herbaria, stamps, etc., thereby causing damage. 

Many people find cockroaches unpleasant and a large population of cockroaches in the home can often cause psychological distress. Cockroaches transmit disease and allergy to cockroaches is common where they are found. 

Cockroaches can hide in luggage during trips abroad. If you have been to a place with many cockroaches, check your luggage thoroughly on your return to avoid introducing them into the home. Open your luggage outdoors and shake the contents thoroughly. Clothes and other effects can also be frozen to kill any cockroaches.