How to avoid getting Zika August 28 2017, 0 Comments
Tips on how to avoid getting bitten by a mosquito when you are pregnant.
We recently went to Thailand on a preplanned holiday. I was pregnant and we almost cancelled the trip but then decided to take it, which for us at this particular moment in life was the right decision. No one got bitten, no one got food poisoning, there was lots of sun and hence vitamin D which is good for babies when their mom is deficient! The island we visited had no known reported cases of Zika and there had been only 2 documented in all of Thailand so after weighing the risks (including that of spending a holiday full of anxiety) we decided to go but to take every imaginable precaution in order not to be bitten by a mosquito and hence at theoretical risk of zika.
Here we share this first hand experience and research, including those products we felt were most safe and non toxic. At Twoodie we don't like to use chemicals or endocrine disruptors as these are especially dangerous for babies and pregnant women. In the end its a balance of what is more risky, in context.
Just to be clear: what is Zika?
Zika is a virus that is spread by day time active mozzies. The name comes from a forest in Uganda where the virus was first discovered in 1947. We heard about it more recently because of the outbreak in Brazil. Symptoms can include fever, red eyes, rash, joint pain, headache…
Zika and pregnancy
Zika grabbed many headlines because it has been shown to cause horrific birth defects. This has happened in children whos mothers were infected during pregnancy. For this reason countries like Australia strongly counsel against visiting Brazil, Thailand, Phillapines, Singapore and other countries where they consider the risk “high”…
Microcephaly, because of its physical deformity, is one of the birth defects that has been highlighted as it was recently discovered that Zika can cause it. But it can also be caused by exposure to infections, malnutrition and exposure to harmful chemicals according to the CDC. So for us looking for a preventative measure was important but also trying to find a non toxic and endocrine disruptor free natural mosquito repellant was a consideration. After all at Twoodie our primary objective is keeping moms and babies safe from toxic toys and the nasty things hiding in untested plastic.
How to avoid getting bitten by a mosquito
I read the internet and have some common sense suggestions that we followed.
These are so basic but really not worth compromising on:
- Don’t go out at dawn or dusk. Regardless of what time Zika mosquitos are active (they are day mosquitos) this is just generally good advice. There are more bugs at this time and they are harder to see so skip the sundowner and take in the view from your hotel room.
- Don’t stay near stagnant water. Get an ocean not a garden view if possible and stay on as high a floor as possible. Make sure to shower inside.
- Check your hotel room/apartment windows and doors for openings. We used duck tape to close a ¾cm wide gap in the door at the Sheraton. Spray around all these areas for good measure.
- Close window blinds and put lights off close to windows in order not to attract mosquitos or bugs at night.
- Obviously, keep doors and windows closed at all times.
So these are the basics for your hotel or accommodation and securing the premises against mosquitos and zika.
The next important thing is to wear clothing that is loose fitting and bulky (hard when hot, I know) so that your skin is not exposed. I wore a kaftan and in the evenings put the aircon on and wore a jacket and tracksuit pants.
At this point one should mention that Zika can be transmitted between sexual partners and so its not just mom but also dad who needs to take all of these precautions unfortunately.
So to recap this is really the first 4 steps to prevent ZIKA:
- Find a place of no/less/lesser risk of Zika/a risk level you are personally comfortable with (if you are living in Thailand a trip to Singapore doesn’t seem like a very reckless endeavour).
- Carefully secure your hotel room/environment so you can enjoy it
- Cover your body as fully as possible with clothing
- Avoid going out at times when there are more mosquitos or you are less likely to notice them biting you!
Then we get to the next level or deterrent: this involves lathering and surrounding yourself with any number of products and gimmicks. We show you the best since we have honestly tried them all!
Remember that places like Thailand have outdoor airports and so it is important to apply before you exit the aeroplane or make sure you are covered with protective clothing.
The best products to prevent mosquito bites
We tried the following:
- Bushman water resistant insect repellent 80% Deet - 8/10
- Parakito bands - 2/10
- Aerogard spray odourless protection, low irritant spray - 6/10
- Tweety tomatoe spray - 4/10
- OFF! Deep woods spray from Johnson and Johnson - 9.5/10
- Mosquito coils from Japan “Fumakilla” - 2/10
- Mosquito coils from China “Zebra” - 1/10
- Ars Mat 12 plug in socket (Courtesy of the Sheraton hotel) - 0/10
- Speed Tox Plug in light - 1/10
- Speed Tox room fumigator - 9/10
- Bushman 40% Deet spray small can - 7/10
- Bushman 40% Deet spray can large size - 6/10. Also available with 20% DEET (but assume pretty similar functionality)
- Aerogard Tropical strength 6 hours protection can spray - 7.5/10
- Mosquito patches - 1/10
We can also comment on these also available to buy online:
- Bushman Deet and sunscreen combo - 9/10
- Speedtox insect spray - 7/10
We tested these products daily for over a week.
Mosquito repellent creams - brands you can buy online/instore
The Bushman cream was sticky and left a white residue that was hard to get off, even in the shower. I felt very protected using it but this was not a pleasureable experience and I think next time we would go for the sunscreen combo because it is also a real pain to be reapplying both sunscreen and insect repellent after every swim and shower. As an aside I find their packaging really gross. Unlike Aerogard which kind of communicated satety in their 'bank blue' and century gothic the Bushman offering just looked amateur and toxic, especially with the lumo green!
They have different levels of DEET and we used the highest available in HK - 80%.
DEET is very effective for repelling mosquitos and was developed by the armed forces in the US for jungle warfare many years ago. Most commercial insect repellents contain it even if not expressly advertised as such.
We applied this on top of sunscreen to hopefully mitigate any absorption of harsh chemicals. It has a gross smell - not as strong as nail varnish remover but very distinct. Helpfully you will forget about the smell after a few hours of wearing it.
It says not to be used for children, and I believe them... this stuff is very strong and for adults at least it gives you confidence...
They did a pretty sweet youtube review video you can see here.
These are bands that you wear. They contain little oblong disks. The disks smell as strong as soap, i.e. you can smell them close up but not from far away. They are supposed to use natural/essential oils to repel insects.
We wore these but honestly I'm not sure that if your right wrist is protected it had any effect on the legs or if maybe wearing this thing just makes you extra anxious. I wore one of the scented disks around my neck and one in the lumo velcro band on my ankle. I didn't feel protected and to me this was an add on precaution, not something I trusted to keep me safe. It smells ok and was one of the most expensive of all the products we bought. Comes with 2 disks per wearable band and says they last 15 days. Mine smelt the same after 15 days... but noticeably stronger when first out of the packet. I would not use these again because I have no confidence that they work, especially since I bought them in a HK supermarket and not an Australian Pharmacy. I'm giving them 2/10 because I like the logo and the name only.
Mosquito repellent sprays - brands you can buy online/instore
This is Aerogard low irritant spray
Apparently this is Australia's number 1 insect repellent, which is a big claim but as my husband tells me it is fair enough as one of the countries oldest and respected insect repellent brands. This spray was not as lung polluting as the canisters which formed a fine mist and got us all coughing (spray those outside!), but it was effective. No white streaks and smelled like it worked. Good coverage.
Before I left Melbourne I went into the airport pharmacy and sat with the pharmacist who went through all her notes and all the products and suggested this (NOT the Bushmans) was the only one suitable for pregnant women. She really did take the time checking all the creams and sprays and lotions out and so I felt most confident with this product that it was safe but also performed its function.
The problem with this spray is that the fine mist really gets into your lungs and is hard to enhale. Also hard to know what/how much has been covered and so easy to over do things. So bottom line whilst the content is obviously good the usability was troublesome. I dreaded applying this stuff.
I've included the back so you can check out the ingredients:
This can is ok for taking on the plane size and contents wise, though they did have a careful look at it.
Tweety tomatoe spray - 4/10
So I have to admit to being against this product from the start because it reminded me, the packaging that is, of a sunscreen I bought when we lived in Shanghai. I had purchased it at a fancy western supermarket because this suncreen said it was extra sensitive for babies.... then I went for a 12km run and burnt my face off under a cap. It had ZERO functionality. So as I looked at this tomatoe based spray what it was saying to me is "this is safe to use" but maybe also "this might not work at all and hence the reason it is safe to use, like spraying yourself with fruity perfume".
This one smelt ok and spayed similar in strength and application to the
Aerogard spray odourless protection. Because I had such low trust of the product (and because it looked completely harmless to me) I used it over and above on top of the Deet or Aerogard to just to spritz myself when it got hot. Come to think of it not sure how one could relax at the beach with this much attention on mosquitos, but it was really fine.
This one has the best name, obviously, but we had also used it before in Myanmar.
We bought this at the airport for Steven to use so I could use the pregnancy proof and sanctioned Aerogard but I ended up using it as well and it was the best of the products we tried. More details below in the summary and recommendations.
The main issue with this spray and also the Aerogard tropical strength was that they spray so finely that its easy to inhale and that's not pleasant. I felt it was effective and at 40% deet maybe less strong than the cream/lotion but also less easy to apply evenly.
Bushman 40% Deet spray can large size - 6/10. Also available with 20% DEET (but assume pretty similar functionality)
This one is identical to above but we got stopped and had to chuck it as is over 100mls.
We used these. You light them and then they smoke a bit and are ideal for the beach. Next to the pool you need to find a way other than sand to stand them upright. They do smell, and they smell fine, but really I'm not sure if this wasn't performing for us more of a kind of sexy placebo role... the grey smoke whafts seductively around but it didn't seem to be hugely protective of my skin. We used them more for my emotional state and to relax than because they offer a barrier of bullet proof protection.
The smoke is barely visible and certainly outside there is no danger to your lungs unless you are literally holding and inhaling the thing.
Generally I trust things that are made in Japan. Their understanding of quality is quite evolved.
Mosquito coils from China “Zebra” - 1/10
These coils smelt the same and cost similar to the Japanese ones.
Ars Mat 12 plug in socket (Courtesy of the Sheraton hotel) - 0/10
This was a strange contraption. It didn't smell and didn't light and didn't smoke. We put it on and only ever had one mosquito in our room. I don't think one can buy these commercially anyway but its worth asking at the hotel, cannot hurt to have it plugged in.
Speed Tox Plug in light - 1/10
Another strange gadget. It didn't keep one (now diseased) mosquito out of our space so I'm gonna say it doesn't work. Quite expensive, has a small green light that spooks out the room and needs to be plugged in. Odourless.
You can see here its a little bit of liquid that you screw into the light and then plug in... very strange and not sure how this works or is supposed to work.
Speed Tox room fumigator - 9/10
WOW! This stuff was amazing. You put it in a little water and then leave the room... we left for breakfast but you need to leave for at least 3-4 hours and then put the aircon on and cycle the air... When we came back it was like the room was full of smoke and it was hard to breathe. So we got out and came back later. We found the room smelling fine, with no residue or stickiness and a HUGE cockroach on the floor who had obviously been pulled out of his hiding place by this fumigation.
This stuff totally worked and I think its ideal if when you check in you drop one and then go out to the beach. It killed every bug in that room and the one next door, I am sure. No sight of mosquitos after that.
Mosquito patches - 1/10
These things do not work! They are of the natural tomato variety.. like the Tweety spray. You are supposed to scratch them to release the scent, but they smell the same whether you scratch or not. The smell is yuck and when on your clothes and close to you can even make you feel a little sick. We used them (all of them) but only so I could write this article and confirm that they are just bad smelling and I'm able to tell if effective. Certainly there is not point in 'scratching' as instructed by the packaging.
The best non-toxic products
Honestly all of the products that worked seemed to have some type of chemical component that was not pronounceable but I took what the very diligent Australian pharmacist said seriously and so I would go with the Aerogard tropical strength.
Otherwise just stay away from all mosquitos or wear covering clothing 24/7.
The best brands to prevent against Zika - summary and recommendations
The OFF! Deep woods spray seemed to be the least toxic to inhale and use and hence was more regularly applied. It didn’t really smell and 8 hours is a very comforting time to achieve protection. It means you can reapply every 4 hrs and feel confident. Next time we travel we will take the initial precautions and then enough of this insect repellent to last us the visit. It does contain Deet but our thinking was that when used on top of sunscreen and only for a short amount of time (a week) that it was safe, especially given no one in our family was prone to seizure which appear to be the main concern.
I would not use any of these products on a regular basis as they contain enormous lists of chemicals and certainly not on children (as many of them specifically state).
So that's our 5c worth. Have a good trip!
Jeanne & Steven