Archive for Sunday, May 9, 2004

Insect bite protection now better than ever

May 9, 2004


Spring is a great time to be outdoors, hiking, biking, camping, fishing, bird watching or turkey hunting.

Aside from the potential for unsettled weather, the only bad thing about spring is biting insects, primarily mosquitoes, ticks and chiggers.

Not only do the blood-sucking vermin inflict itchy wounds on human epidermis, they spread an increasing number of diseases, from West Nile virus to Rocky Mountain fever and Lyme disease.

If you're going outdoors, you need to protect yourself from insect bites.

Luckily, building a bug-proof chemical barrier around human hide has never been easier, though it is admittedly confusing because of the variety of protectors promoted as insect repellents.

Some people are naturally attractive to insect pests. I know, because I'm one of those people. Biting bugs will weave their way through a crowd to locate me. Entomologists say it's a body-chemistry thing.

Lately, there have been "natural" products that do not contain dangerous chemicals. I've tried every new repellent that's come to my attention, and I can testify that they don't work for me.

Maybe they work for people who are not bug magnets. Fishing in Mexico one year, my fishing companions were using Avon Skin-So-Soft, a skin lotion that certainly smelled better than chemical repellents.

The skin lotion worked for my fishing partners, but it didn't deter the bugs from biting me.

What works for me is "Diethyl-meta-toluamide, commonly called DEET. It's a chemical repellent developed for the military in the 1950s. Despite billions spent on subsequent research, nothing challenges the effectiveness of DEET.

The term "repellent" may be a misnomer for the chemical famous for keeping mosquitoes at bay. Laboratory tests prove that mosquitoes will still approach a subject protected by DEET.

When the mosquitoes get too close, the receptors in their antennae are overwhelmed and rendered useless.

Mosquitoes that overdose on DEET wind up in a bug's version of a drunken stupor that may last as long as an hour. They perch in an out-of-the-way place and sleep it off until their receptors are functioning.

DEET products are available in aerosol or pump containers. To be effective, the repellent must be applied to all exposed skin.

You can read the label to make certain the repellent lists DEET as an active ingredient. The percentage of DEET varies from one product to the next. Children should use a repellent with less than 10 percent DEET.

While DEET is effective against mosquitoes, there's another chemical repellent called permethrin that works better on ticks and chiggers. Permethrin, also developed for military use, is the active ingredient in a product called Permanone.

You do not apply Permanone to your skin. You spray it on your clothing, early enough to allow the chemical to dry before donning the clothes.

Permethrin will actually kill ticks and chiggers on contact. Applied properly, Permanone will stay effective through several washings.

How effective are these chemical barriers? So effective that I can use them correctly, then go into the spring turkey woods, sit on the ground with my back against a tree and never be bitten by a mosquito, a tick or a chigger.

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