Tsetse Fly Repellents For Africa

Page Updated: Mar 2024

Unfortunately there is still no consistently effective repellent for tsetse flies which can bite through practically any fabric. They don't actually bite - they drill their probosis into your skin (through your clothes) which is painful and irritating.

Not only do they just deliver painful 'bites', infected tsetse flies are responsible for transmitting parasites known as 'trypanosomes' which may cause trypanosomiasis, also known as African Sleeping Sickness and this may pose some risk to hunters in tropical rural areas. Read more on sleeping sickness in Africa.

It is important to know that not all tsetse flies are infected with trypanosomes so being bitten by a tsetse fly does not mean you will automatically get sleeping sickness. The proportion of tsetse flies that are infected with this parasite is low in eastern and south-eastern Africa but it is important to be aware of this disease if travelling in remote rural tsetse fly areas.

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    Note, the following tsetse fly repellents may not protect against mosquitoes or ticks. Tsetse flies are usually active during the day and mosquitoes usually bite in early morning, dusk and night, so it is feasible to try these products while out hunting and change to anti-mosquito repellents later in the day.

    The CDC advice on tsetse fly protection remains the same as for mosquitoes...DEET, Picaridin, Oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) and IR3535. IR3535 and Picardin are found in Skin So Soft Bug Guard and Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus respectively which many find does repel tsetses for a while. Read more on these products on Insect Repellents For Africa

  • Many scientific studies have been done to try and find an effective repellent including testing various concentrations of DEET and Permethrin on different coloured clothing. Blue is a very attractive colour to tsetse flies, so best avoided at all times when hunting in tsetse country. The upshot of one study found that a permethrin impregnated mesh jacket reduced the biting rate by 75%. As mesh jackets that come ready treated with permethrin are often not easily available, you may need to get a regular mesh jacket and spray it with permethrin yourself, if you want to try out this tsetse deterrent method.
  • Some hunters have found products that seem to work for them with tsetse fly, such as Avon Skin-So-Soft Plus With IR3535. This was a regular Avon skin beauty product that was found by chance to have insect repellent properties. Avon has now developed the product into 'Bug Guard' range which includes towelettes and aerosols. You may prefer Avon Bug Guard Plus Picaridin. This are no longer available on Amazon.
  • If you can get hold of the Australian RID insect repellent, RID Tropical Strength Roll-On, it has been tested to give 100% protection from tsetse flies in some areas for about 1 hour after application. The roll-on was applied in copious amounts and re-applied hourly. You can no longer buy this product in the EU or UK but it is available from online outlets in Australia who ship internationally.
  • If you can find it, the original Dettol antiseptic liquid mixed with water is a somewhat strong smelling brew, which needs applying very frequently. This would be best made then decanted into a spray bottle. Dettol now make dozens of household products so make sure you buy the old-fashioned brown antiseptic rather than a floor cleaner.

Other Anti-Tsetse Measures

  • Swatting them off yourself and your companions is the natural thing to do but it is thought this movement makes them more persistent. Most tsetse flies are very tough and a surprising amount of effort is needed to actually crush a tsetse fly by swatting, unlike a housefly. Picking them up and squashing them between finger and thumb may be a better method.
  • Tuck your trousers legs into your socks and boots or use duct tape to close off your trouser legs. Tsetses have a nasty habit of getting in under your clothes and biting. Squashing them while inside your clothes may lead to a rather large blood stain on your garment.
  • Avoid bright and strong coloured clothing especially blue.
  • Tsetses are very attracted to moving vehicles so are a particular nuisance in and on the hunting truck. If you are being attacked by a big swarm, a blast of Doom (a household insect spray found in Africa) may be a welcome but short-lived respite.
  • Tsetse flies can also be found in charter planes in Africa, so you might like to look around first when boarding.
  • Avoid thick bushy areas when you stop for lunch while out hunting. At the hottest time of day, tsetses like to rest in bushes and low trees, so if disturbed, they may start biting.
  • Check that you don't have any tsetse flies on/under your clothing when you get back to camp and before going into your tent. You may find the odd tsetse fly in your tent - so swat and spray with Doom. They generally come into camp on your body and/or on the hunting vehicle when you return in the evening.

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