If you’re travelling to a malaria-endemic area, a mosquito net should be on your list of essential travel supplies. Malaria is transmitted by the female Anopheles mosquito that bites humans from dusk to dawn.
The Anopheles mosquito is stealthy and silent. They don’t buzz so you can’t hear them approaching. This means you are a prime target when you are most vulnerable — asleep. Bed nets are a key defence against malaria, but they also offer protection from other diseases such as filariasis (known for massive swelling of the limbs) and other insects and arachnids like ticks, beetles, flies, and spiders.
Remember that in malarious areas, insecticide-treated mosquito nets are required in bedrooms without tightly-fitting window screens or broken screens Bed nets are not required in buildings with sealed windows and central air conditioning. From wedge-shaped, to cone or canopy, to rectangular box-style nets, there are many options to choose from.
Here are our recommendations for buying a bed net that will give you the best protection.
Choose a tightly woven, white net big enough to tuck under your mattress. The netting should be made of stiff cotton or synthetic thread to allow the movement of air. A white net allows you to see mosquitoes against the background. Netting with 285 holes per square inch is ideal because it is very breathable but will prevent even the smallest mosquito from entering. (You can find out the number of holes per square inch by multiplying the number of holes along the length of a square inch of net and the number of holes along the height.)
Different bed net styles provide different levels of protection. Rectangular bed nets are a great option because they reduce your chance of touching the net while you sleep. You are more likely to touch the netting when sleeping under a cone-shaped net, which could allow insects to bite through.
Insecticide-treated nets are more effective than untreated nets. Nets treated with an insecticide like permethrin kill insects on contact. Some bed nets come pre-treated or you can treat them yourself by soaking your bed net in a permethrin solution, available in many travel health clinics and outdoor equipment stores. (Note that permethrin treatment products are not sold in Canada.)
Consider your style of travel. Will you be carrying your net around with you while you move frequently from place to place, or will you spend most of your trip in a few locations? Choose a net that’s light and compact enough to pack and carry easily.
The best protection comes from a combination of protection measures. If you’re in a malaria endemic area, don’t just rely on one method of protection. Reduce your risk of malaria infection by using a combination of measures including a bed net, preventing mosquito bites, and using antimalarial medication (as prescribed). Take meticulous anti-mosquito measures by using insect repellent containing 20-30% DEET or 20% Picaridin and wearing light-coloured, light-weight long sleeves and pants. Before your trip (4-6 weeks before you depart), make an appointment with a travel health professional to see if antimalarial medication is recommended for your trip. You can read more about different antimalarial medications here.
Maintain your bed net. Remember to check your net frequently for tears. Mosquitoes will spend hours searching for an opening so even one tear is too many.
Last reviewed and updated: December 11, 2020.
Image by IAMAT