Over more than 25 years of exploring many different countries in Africa, I have had a few run-ins with tsetse flies. Most memorably on a drive along a ‘tsetse fly corridor’ to a camp in Zambia which I don’t think is even in business anymore.
In Botswana, tsetse flies have been eradicated by aerial spraying so they are not an issue there; likewise not a factor in Namibia, South Africa, most of Zimbabwe, the South Luangwa region of Zambia and Kenya. If you are headed to Tanzania (Serengeti, parts of Selous GR, parts of Ruaha NP, Katavi and Mahale Mountains National Park), the Kafue region of Zambia and the Republic of Congo (Odzala-Kokoua National Park), you need take some steps to avoid being bitten by tsetse flies.
Here are my hints on how to avoid becoming a target for these useless pests. Or at least to reduce the damage they can do on you.
i) Before you put on anything for the day’s outing, spray yourself all over with -preferably – Peaceful Sleep which is a very effective tsetse fly repellent. If you don’t have that on hand then use whatever DEET-containing spray or roll-on or cream you have on hand. Try to cover as much of your body as you can (even your back as they will probe and/or bite through clothing). Repel with Lemon Eucalyptus also works well if your skin is sensitive to DEET. It is best to wear loose fitting clothes because the tsetse flies can reach skin through tight clothing.
ii) Wear a neutral color long-sleeved shirt and long pants – shorts are just too much of an invitation. No black or dark (navy) blues as dark colors seem to attract the tsetse flies. Tuck your long pants into your socks (the longer and thicker the better, but not black or dark blue) and use some Peaceful Sleep or other spray or insect repellent liberally around the ankles. The tsetse flies like ankles A LOT! If you want some extra protection, wear gaiters around the ankles. The gaiters might even protect you from other biting flies.
iii) Put on a hat to cover your head. Next time I might even take some sturdy biking gloves for certain tricky spots or activities (a boating trip in Odzala-Kokoua, Republic of Congo come to mind).
iv) Then spray yourself again – including on your clothing and socks, everywhere – with Peaceful Sleep. Repeat as often as necessary.
v) Take a small spray bottle with a Dettol anti-septic mix with you (2/3 water, 1/3 Dettol with some lotion to make it stick) and either spray it on every 20 to 30 minutes or so, or whenever you see tsetse fly activity increase around you. The tsetse flies don’t like the smell of Dettol. Yes you will smell like a middle school infirmary but trust me, tsetse fly bites itch like crazy. Dettol or its equivalent is widely available – and cheap – all over Africa.
vi) Take a cortisone cream or other anti-itch cream with you & apply it to a bite immediately. Take a couple of Benadryls if you get several bites. It happens. For some people the cortisone creams really don’t touch the itch. For them anti histamine creams do a better job. A brand which works well is Intamine (available in Kenya) and similar products made in South Africa. Amongst the hydro-cortizone creams we have used “Cortizone 10” by Pfizer with good effect.
vii) When there are just a few tsetse flies around, stay calm and don’t panic & flail away. It might be that movement attracts them, I don’t know. Still testing this theory – might have to book a trip to the Kafue region of Zambia to check it out.
viii) If you do get bitten, don’t worry too much – it is not fatal and you won’t get sleeping sickness. I am told that the reaction to the tsetse fly bites reduces sharply after a week or so of getting bitten. If the choice is to get bitten by Tsetse flies repeatedly for a week to build up resistance or do all the stuff above to avoid getting bitten, it should be an easy decision.
Chances are you won’t need to take all of these measures but best to be prepared. Nobody likes to be bitten – by anything.
BACK TO TOP