Bites from Anthropods and Insects
Bites and stings from spiders and scorpions can be painful and can result in illness and death, particularly among infants and children. Other insects and arthropods, such as mosquitoes and ticks, can transmit communicable diseases. Bites and stings can occur without the traveler’s awareness of the bite, particularly when camping or staying in rustic accommodations.
There has been a recent resurgence in bed bug infestations worldwide, particularly in developed countries, thought to be related to the increase in international travel and insecticide resistance. Bed bug infestations have been increasingly reported in hotels. Bed bugs may be transported in luggage and on clothing.
Insect bites can be avoided by using repellents and insecticides, wearing long sleeves and pants while hiking, sleeping under mosquito nets, and shaking clothing and shoes before putting them on. Exposure to bed bugs can be avoided by inspecting the premises of hotels or other unfamiliar sleeping locations for bed bugs on mattresses, box springs, bedding, and furniture. Keep suitcases closed when they are not in use and try to keep them off the floor when traveling.
Travelers should seek medical attention if a bite or sting causes redness, swelling, bruising, rash, or persistent pain or fever. Travelers who have a history of severe allergic reactions to insect bites or stings should also ask their physician to evaluate them for the need to carry an epinephrine auto-injector (such as an EpiPen) to use, in case of recurrence (both in general and especially while traveling).
Bites or Scratch Wounds from Animals
Animal bites present a risk for rabies, tetanus, and other bacterial infections. Animals’ saliva can be so heavily contaminated with bacteria that a bite may not even be necessary to cause infection if the animal licks a preexisting cut or scratch. Young children are more likely to be bitten by animals and to sustain more severe injuries from animal bites.
Before departure, travelers should have a current tetanus vaccination or documentation of having received a booster vaccination within the previous 5–10 years. Travel health providers should assess a traveler’s need for pre-exposure rabies immunization.
While traveling, people should never try to pet, handle, or feed unfamiliar animals (whether domestic or wild), particularly in areas where rabies is endemic. To mitigate the risk of exposure to rabies, dogs and other mammals should be avoided.
In order to prevent infection, all wounds should be promptly cleaned with soap and water, and the wound promptly debrided, if necrotic tissue, dirt, or other foreign material is present. These steps of wound care are especially important for tetanus- or rabies-prone wounds.
Travelers who might have been exposed to rabies should contact a reliable health care provider for advice about rabies post-exposure prophylaxis. Travelers who received their most recent tetanus toxoid-containing vaccine more than 5 years previously, or who have not received at least 3 doses of tetanus toxoid-containing vaccines, may require a dose of tetanus toxoid–containing vaccine (Tdap, Td, or DTaP).
West Nile Virus
The best way to protect you and your family from WNV, or any other mosquito-borne illness, is to reduce the number of mosquitoes around your home and neighborhood and to take personal precautions to avoid mosquito bites. For more information, please visit our West Nile Virus page.
Rabies is a preventable viral disease most often transmitted through the bite of a rabid animal. The rabies virus attacks the central nervous system, causing encephalitis. It is always fatal once symptoms appear. Rabies can be prevented in persons who have come into contact or have been bitten by wild animals through prompt administration of anti-rabies vaccine and rabies immune globulin. Hundreds of rabies post exposure prophylactic treatments are initiated annually in Arizona to prevent rabies from developing after exposure.
All bite or contact exposures should be reported immediately to local animal control or health officials. For more information and reporting possible cases of rabies, please visit our rabies page.
Animals tend to avoid humans, but they can attack if they perceive threat, are protecting their young or territory, or are injured or ill. Although attacks by wild animals are more dramatic, attacks by domestic animals are far more common, and secondary infections of wounds may result in serious systemic disease. In addition, animals can transmit zoonotic infections such as rabies.
Of the estimated 35,000–55,000 rabies deaths every year worldwide, more than 95% occur as a result of dog bites in the developing countries of Africa and Asia. A recent 10-year retrospective review of dog bites in Austria showed that 75% of the bites were preventable because the person had intentionally interacted with the dog.