Insects & Nasties
A guide to the problems of mosquitoes, insects and other health dangers on Tobago
Tobago's lush vegetation goes hand in glove with a wide variety of wildlife, including insects of every type and description. This is typical of any tropical destination. Fortunately, the island has few poisonous or venomous creatures, so visitors need have no fear.
The bites of smaller insects can be a big problem to some visitors and nothing more than a minor inconvenience to others. As with everything, prevention is better than cure, so please read and follow our guidelines to minimise any risk of your holiday being spoiled by troublesome insect bites and then read the Bite Prevention & Cure section, below, to see how we deal with the problem.
Visitors often blame mosquitoes for all bites, when the majority are actually caused by sand flies, gnats, midges and other tiny flying insects. Mosquitoes are noticeable, slow flying insects and you will be very aware when bitten by one. Nine times out of ten you will actually see the mossie and be able to kill it before it has left your body. They are most active at night, particularly during the wet 'rainy' season (June to December). I can honestly say that Jill and I have suffered VERY few mosquito bites for many years. In fairness, we only visit Tobago during the dry season and strictly adhere to the prevention guidelines below.
These little critters, in which group we include midges, gnats and a host of other invisible 'nasties' which the Americans rather aptly call 'noseeums', can make life in the tropics a total misery for some poor souls. Unless it is your first trip to the Caribbean, you will know whether you are sensitive to them or not. Many people are lucky enough to never attract bites. For the vast majority, they are only a very minor inconvenience. Sand flies are at their most active in the hour before and after sunset, so avoid the beach - particularly along the tide line - at that time. Gnats and midges are present in all grassy areas, so avoid walking on grass verges or lawns.
Cockroaches are a normal part of life in the tropics. Your hotel will undoubtedly have done everything possible to eradicate, or at least minimise, the problem. Many of us believe cockroaches to be indicative of 'dirty' unclean conditions, but this is not necessarily the case and 'clean' varieties of cockroach can fly in from the garden. Your hotel will undoubtedly be highly embarrassed if you find one. If the establishment is otherwise clean and well maintained, please understand that it does not always indicate poor housekeeping. The chances are you will never see a single 'roach.
These shouldn't be included here, because lizards are not pests. However, there is no other suitable section/page and some visitors are a little unsettled by these little fellows that are found in all houses throughout the tropics. The first thing to say is that small white (almost transparent) 'house' lizards, or Geckos, are totally harmless. They do not bite. They are actually to be welcomed and encouraged, because they feed on the insects that do bite, so are an insect deterrent.
Snakes, Spiders and Venomous Creatures
Visitors will be delighted to learn that Tobago is almost devoid of noxious wildlife. The island has no native poisonous snakes. Tarantula spiders can be found in some areas, particularly the forests between Mason Hall and Castara, but their bite is more of an irritant than a danger. Scorpions are also found in some areas. Although a very rare occurrence, anyone stung by a scorpion should make a very quick trip to the hospital as the appropriate shots must be administered as quickly as possible. Don't wait in the queue at the hospital - go straight in.
Bites from sand flies, midges and gnats can produce hives, serious irritation and discomfort. Jill used to be seriously affected by this condition, but has now cracked the problem. Based on our personal experience, we make the following recommendations to minimise the problem:
Use a good mosquito/insect repellent containing 50% DEET (Diethyletolumide). Apply the repellent regularly, to all exposed parts of your body and clothing, with a double-dose around your ankles and lower legs. Jungle Formula and Autan are two very good products, but the locally-available products Off!, Go! and Odomos (cream) are particularly effective. Our personal favourite is the 175gm spray can version of Off!which contain 15% DEET available for about TT$45. Off! is also available in plastic bottles, labelled 'Family Spray', but these contain just 7% DEET, so need to be re-applied every hour or two (The DEET concentration indicates how long the repellent will last, not the strength of the repellent). A considerably cheaper alternative, which is often just as effective, is to mix a few drops of citronella oil or oil of lemon eucalyptus with after-sun, moisturiser or baby-oil. Everyone reacts differently so its a matter of experimentation.
Avoid sandy areas at dusk and lawns and grassy verges at all times.
Do not wear black or dark colours in the evening. These attract mosquitoes.
Do not wear perfume or aftershave. These can attract mosquitoes and insects. Mosquitoes are attracted to people by skin odours and carbon dioxide from the breath. The trick is to find ways of making you less attractive to them (without having the same effect on fellow travellers).
If you know that you usually suffer serious reactions to bites, seek medical advice and start taking antihistamine tablets before you leave home. If you only suffer mild reaction, take a stock of antihistamine tablets with you. I would recommend Clarityn (or it's generic equivalent) rather than Piriton, as it is non-drowsy. It is best to take medical advice, but whichever you use, make sure you stay off the alcohol. Everyone should take a tube or two of Anthisan antihistamine cream and apply to every bite, three times a day. Anthisan is available in Tobago.
Never scratch bites, no matter how much they itch. If they've got to the itchy stage, it's because you haven't applied the antihistamine cream early or regularly enough. Lanacane is a good, if expensive, treatment and contains a local anaesthetic to soothe the pain. At around £6, the Zanza-Click is a good bite relief device but should never be used by those who suffer from epilepsy or have a pacemaker. These little devices zap the bite with an electrical charge that reduces itching and can prevent swelling. Use in conjunction with Anthisan.
Mosquitoes do not like breezes or wind. Use the fan in your room to create 'windy' conditions.
Spray your bedroom before retiring at night and use an electric mosquito killer. Mosquito coils should not be burned inside small rooms. Electric BugMat mosquito deterrents are available in Tobago supermarkets and local stores. Similar units are available in the UK (around £7-£8) but the refill pads will not be available in Tobago, so you will need to make sure you take an adequate stock.
Jill and I prefer to not use air-conditioning unless security considerations mean that we are unable to leave all/most windows open. We far prefer to sleep in natural conditions. We have never found it too hot to sleep comfortably. In fact, Tobago's sea breezes can be surprisingly cool during the winter months of January to March when we most commonly visit. You might think that this would leave us very vulnerable to mosquito bites, but I can only repeat my statement that neither of us have suffered from mosquito bites for many years. The simple system that works for us is as follows:
An hour or so before going to bed, we close all windows and shutters and leave our BugMat* burning a fresh deterrent tablet. On going to bed, we open the shutters wide enough to get a through-draft and switch the ceiling fan (if there is one) to a medium/low setting; enough to stir the air without being intrusive in the quiet of the night. If the room has a free standing floor fan, we position it facing the bed so that the air stream blows across our chest (rather than onto our faces). We turn the oscillation off, so that the fan is blowing in a constant direction, and set the speed low enough to create a gentle flow; not fast enough to ripple the sheets. The BugMat is left burning all night and positioned on the side nearest to the fan, so that the deterrent is blown across the bed.
* BugMat or GoodKnight are two popular makes of electric insect deterrents available from all/most Tobago supermarkets. They cost around TT$45 (£4/US$7) including an initial stock of deterrent burner tablets. They are therefore far cheaper - and appear to be more efficient - than any of the products we can buy here in the UK, and without the worry of plug adaptors. Highly recommended.
Dengue Fever on Tobago
Dengue is endemic in most countries in the Caribbean and Tobago is no exception. Trinidad, 21-miles away (and as similar to Tobago as chalk and cheese) has quite a severe problem with the disease and there are indications that the few reported cases of dengue in Tobago actually originated in Trinidad. The risk is at its highest during the 'wet' season, between May and November.
Dengue is a flu-like viral disease spread by the bite of infected mosquitoes. Like flu, variants of the fever can be severe and even fatal. Dengue is not contagious - it can only be caught from the bite of an infected mosquito. The disease is far more prevalent in cities than in rural areas and particularly in poorer, crowded areas where poor sanitation and standing water/sewage allow the infected mosquitoes to flourish. Dengue fever usually starts suddenly with a high fever, rash, severe headache, pain behind the eyes and muscle and join pain. There is no specific treatment for dengue, but anyone suffering the symptoms should seek urgent medical advice.