Vector Borne Risks

Vector Borne Diseases

Knowing your enemy is one of the best ways to prevent illness overseas. Designed for those of you who are interested in the fine detail behind the health risks you might face abroad, here’s some useful insight into vector borne diseases, what they are, how they’re transmitted and how to stay safe in at-risk countries.

Know your vector borne disease risk

Our global economy, increasing levels of urbanisation, international travel, agricultural change, deforestation, worldwide trade and climate change challenges are all having an effect on how fast and far these diseases spread, and on the number and location of nations in which they’re a risk.

Some diseases like dengue and West Nile virus are popping up in countries where they haven’t been seen before. So it makes a lot of sense to familiarise yourself with the facts before you travel.

What is a vector borne disease?

Vector-borne diseases are those caused by an infectious microbe, the ‘vector’. They’re usually transmitted to humans by insects that suck our blood. Think mosquitoes, fleas, lice and flies and you get the picture. You can even catch diseases from some types of freshwater snail.

The insects themselves are typically infected by disease agent when eating infected birds or mammals, after which the microbes grow and multiply. Then they pass the disease to the humans they bite.

Facts about vector-borne infections

  • More than 17% of all infectious diseases are spread by vector insects and bugs
  • They cause more than a billion cases and a million fatalities every year
  • Dengue alone affects more than two and a half billion people across the world in 100+ nations
  • Malaria kills over 600,000 people every year, mostly children under five

The figures are disturbing. But worse still, most of these diseases can be avoided. They’re often easily preventable as long as you know how to protect yourself. More about that later.

List of vector-borne illnesses

Vector-spread infections include:

  • Chagas disease
  • Leishmaniasis
  • Yellow Fever
  • Rift Valley fever
  • Dengue Fever
  • Malaria
  • Chikungunya Fever
  • Japanese Encephalitis
  • Lymphatic filariasis
  • West Nile fever
  • Phelebotomus fever (also called Sandfly fever)
  • Sleeping sickness ( also called African trypanosomiasis)
  • Bubonic plague
  • Rickettsiosis
  • River Blindness (also called Onchocerciasis)
  • Schistosomiasis
  • Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever
  • Lyme disease
  • Rickettsial diseases (also called spotted fever / Q fever)
  • Tick-borne encephalitis
  • Tularaemia

How to stay safe from vector-borne illnesses

You can get vaccines against some vector borne diseases including yellow fever and Japanese encephalitis. If you’re travelling to an area at risk, it’s an essential part of your preparations.

Travel health practitioners like us advise people to always use proven insect repellents and common sense protective measures against biting insects when travelling to risky areas.

The malaria chemoprophylaxis vaccine is sometimes more effective than others, and in the case of malaria you should always protect yourself in practical ways as well as having the vaccination.

There is no vaccine for dengue, chikungunya, Zika, West Nile encephalitis or tickborne diseases like Lyme borreliosis and tick borne encephalitis.

Follow this advice to protect yourself

  • Avoid areas where there are known outbreaks
  • Find out the times of day or night you’re most at risk, and the places to avoid – for example fresh water where mosquitoes breed. Handy mosquito tip: Dengue, yellow fever and chikungunya mosquitoes bite most between dawn and dusk while malaria, West Nile and Japanese encephalitis mosquitoes bite from dusk to dawn
  • Wear the right clothes – cover your skin with long sleeves and long trousers so insects can’t get at it, and wear socks
  • Treat your clothes with permethrin, or buy clothes ready-impregnated with it to keep insects off
  • Check yourself for ticks, and have a hot shower after visiting an area where ticks are present
  • Use a bed net
  • Use insect repellents, and re-apply it frequently

How to find out your destination’s vector disease status

We make it our business to know which diseases are happening where. We’ll be able to advise which vaccinations you need, and you can also check here, on the NHS Fit For Travel pages, and use Google to search for current outbreaks.