Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Bug Off!

I have a love-hate relationship with mosquitoes: they love to bite me, and I hate them for it.

Spring came a bit late to Utah this year, but when it finally arrived, it did so in huge ways, going from 60 and massive daily rain to high 70s and sunshine in about a week. All of that water mixed with a bit of warmth and the open spaces I love, makes for a bumper mosquito crop.

In addition to pain and irritation from their bites, insects like mosquitoes and ticks can carry diseases, including potentially fatal ones. While abatement efforts can curb populations, and candles, torches and other devices can keep them away from fixed locations, you're going to need more personal protection if you're moving around at all.

One of the best ways to prevent bites is to cover up, as skin which can't be touched can't be bitten. When possible, long sleeves and long pants cut back dramatically on the real estate available. However, hot weather and other situations can limit the amount of skin you cover. In those situations, you need chemical repellent.

(All information comes from the University of Indiana Health Center.)

DEET is the traditional chemical insect repellent in the USA. It is inexpensive and definitely effective. Unfortunately, DEET is proven to absorb through the skin and can lead to health concerns with heavy use. It also smells terrible and will melt certain plastics; I have seen this firsthand with the handle on a fishing rod. It was surprising and unpleasant, to say the least.

Picaridin is a newer alternative to DEET. It is odorless and will not absorb through the skin. It also doesn't leave a greasy or oily residue, nor will not melt plastic material. Testing has shown it to be as effective as DEET with the same concentrations.

Both Picaridin and DEET are available in liquid or aerosol form. I like the aerosol for general use, as it makes application quick and easy. The small liquid bottles fit nicely into fishing and hunting packs though, and travel very well.

Both repellents have a percentage concentration marked on the container. For a long time, I believed that higher percentages repelled insects more strongly. Instead, my research taught me that the higher percentage concentration simply lasts longer between applications; a concentration of 30% will give at least 4 hours of effective work, while keeping any chemical absorption to a minimum.

While DEET and Picaridin are applied directly to the skin, Permethrin is used to treat clothing. It binds to clothing fibers and will last for multiple washings. You can treat your favorite outdoors clothing weeks or months in advance and it will remain ready until you need it. This window of protection can be extended even further by storing treated clothing in sealed bags.

Use the right combination of repellents to keep itching and illness away.


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