Mosquitoes and Sports

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Doing sports or physical activity, whether in the countryside, by the sea, in the mountains or at a lakeside, may bring a few surprises.

All outdoor physical activities expose you to mosquito bites, especially when they are done near streams. These bites result in local reaction, redness, itching, and are generally minor, although they cause discomfort. However, they can also be responsible for transmitting diseases such as malaria or dengue fever. You should remain alert when travelling abroad, but also in your own country which may be affected.

Why do we react to mosquito bites?

When mosquitoes bite us, they inject their saliva that contains vasodilating and anticoagulant substances, causing our blood vessels to dilate and resulting in skin redness.

What to do in general

Most of the time, there is nothing to do when the bites are mild or not too many. You can still use soothing essential oils. In general, the itching fades rapidly. When they are associated with significant skin reaction, it is recommended to apply an antihistamine or cortisone-based ointment.

Bite prevention - How to choose an effective mosquito repellent?

Mosquito repellents should be applied to the exposed body parts, so that their evaporation is facilitated, making them more effective. Three daily applications are recommended. In the wide range of available products, four products are effective and non toxic:

DEET

Highly effective treatments to prevent insect bites (especially mosquitoes and anopheles). They come in sprays, lotions or gels containing DEET (diethyltoluamide). These sprays are for skin application and should be applied to all exposed body parts (non protected by clothes).

These sprays, lotions or gels should not be used in children under age 2.

For children aged 12 years and less, use products containing less than 30% of DEET

Icaridin

The product is dosed at 20% or 25%, and has the added advantage of being odourless.

IR35/35

Dosed at 35%, it is the only repellent authorised for pregnant women

Citriodiol

It is suitable for young children, but not for pregnant women.

Holidays, sports and physical activities should be associated with pleasure and health. Be careful and be prepared.

Advice from the pros: It is helpful to carry a small first aid kit to be able to cure minor woes before they turn into nightmares. And remember the number of emergency services… 112 from a mobile phone.

Prevention is central to the problem. Also avoid light and open windows!

It is estimated that the action of these 4 repellents lasts for 2 to 5 hours after application, with variations related to the product concentration and the outside temperature.

Tip: soak a mosquito net with repellent

Warning, Danger - Mosquitoes and Viral Diseases

Zika virus

Tiger mosquitoes can transmit various viruses to humans, such as dengue fever, chikungunya fever, yellow fever, and the Zika virus that is currently circulating is transmitted through bites of infected female mosquitoes of the Aedes genus, i.e. "tiger-mosquito" (the virus goes from the insect's saliva to the blood of the bitten person).

Transmitted by the bite of an infected mosquito, it can cause a syndrome similar to other arboviroses, with self-limiting fever, rash, headaches, and joint pain. What is more, it is the only arbovirus for which sexual transmission has been demonstrated. As of early 2016, there is not treatment, vaccine, nor rapid diagnosis test available for this virus.

The WHO states: The Zika virus disease is due to a virus transmitted by mosquitoes of the Aedes genus . The affected people usually experience mild fever, skin rash (exanthema) and conjunctivitis. Typically, symptoms disappear within 2 to 7 days. There is currently no specific treatment or vaccine available. The best type of prevention is protection from mosquito bites. The virus is known to circulate in Africa, in America, in Asia and in the Pacific area.

Dengue fever

It is transmitted by the bite of a mosquito infected by one of the four dengue virus serotypes. Symptoms are often flu-like symptoms (fever, headaches, muscle soreness), appear within 3 to 14 days (4 to 7 days on average) of the mosquito bite. Dengue fever equally affects newborns, children and adults. The disease can be serious and may require hospitalisation in haemorrhagic or respiratory form cases. People affected by Dengue fever should rest, drink lots of fluids and reduce the fever with paracetamol, and seek medical advice (Source: WHO, Dengue fever).

Malaria: medicinal protection is required

It is essential to enquire about any required malaria prophylaxis before going abroad. Admittedly, certain drugs are hardly tolerated in sports, but it is essential to follow a strict protocol.

The cost of drugs is certainly significant, all the more so in certain countries where Malarone and Lariam must be combined. Prophylaxis has a cost, but is vital. Besides, keep in mind that the treatment should be started a dozen days before your sports travel.

Medications have side effects that may result in below-average sports performances. The treatment being essential, the protocol being strict to guarantee efficiency, you need to prepare your stay adequately and take advice from specific consultations or visit the travellers' health website. An additional malaria prevention is to avoid being bitten by a mosquito.

This implies using insecticides and repellents, and to sleep under an insecticide-treated mosquito net. It is particularly recommended to wear covering clothes in the evening, and to apply repellent to exposed body parts and to your clothes.

Attention, when doing sports, since you sweat and then shower, you will need to re-apply repellent after your bath / shower.

Chikungunya fever

Chikungunya is a virus transmitted by mosquito bites in many geographic areas, including Europe. Chikungunya is characterised by the abrupt onset of a fever, often accompanied by arthralgia. Other common signs and symptoms are myalgia, headaches, nausea, fatigue and rash. The arthralgia (joint pain) is often severe, but typically disappears within a few days or a few weeks. Most patients recover fully, but in certain cases, the arthralgia may last for several months or even several years. Rare cases of ocular, neurological and cardiac complications have been reported, as well as gastrointestinal pain. Severe complications are not common, but in elderly people the disease can be a cause of death.

The best way to prevent chikungunya transmission is to protect yourself against mosquito bites and to slow down their reproduction by destroying their most obvious breeding places.

 

Docteur Patrick Bacquaert

Médecin chef de l'IRBMS

 
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