Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Don't kill yourself over a few mosquitoes

Thanks to my career in nature recording, I am outside A LOT, especially during the warmer months. I've always been very enthusiastic about being outdoors, going back to my childhood. What that means is that, over the years living in New England, I've probably been bitten by over a million mosquitoes. And I pride myself in being everyone's favorite hiking buddy, because mosquitoes seem to prefer the taste of my blood over anyone else's. I can't explain why, I just know that it is an indisputable truth. I can tell you about mosquitoes whose bites hurt like crazy but the welts only last an hour, and I can tell you about mosquitoes whose bites are stealthy and hardly noticeable, but the welts last a whole week. And I can tell you where to find each of these various types of skeeters.

Over the years, I've tried all the different kinds of repellents: The 100% DEET stuff that works well but melts plastic on contact and was reported to have caused liver problems for the Gulf War infantrymen who used it; The "all natural" botanical repellent that works decently, but needs to be reapplied every 15 minutes; The ultrasonic emitter that clips onto your clothing and "scares off" mosquitoes by mimicking the sound of their top predator, the dragonfly (don't waste your money on this one); and just about everything in between. None of these turned out to be a sastisfactory solution that I felt good enough about to stick with. So in the last couple of years, I've settled on what I felt was the one true solution to preventing mosquito bites: a physical barrier.

That's right, I got a bug suit. You know, the dorky matching hoodie and pants made of window screen material that goes on outside whatever clothing you're wearing. It even has a drop-down 'veil' of sorts to protect your face. And as expected, it is not only highly embarrassing to wear in areas where I run into other people, but it works great! -- except now all the mosquitoes just bite me on the hands :( But I can't expect myself to wear gloves while trying to fumble with the tiny buttons and switches on audio equipment and cameras while standing in a stream. And plus, IT'S SUMMER, PEOPLE. It's way too hot to be wearing gloves! And yes, mesh bug gloves are available, but that doesn't solve the problem of trying to manipulate tiny controls (and it also adds another element of embarrassment to the already very embarrassing bug suit).

Which leaves me with - what exactly? Bug suit over my whole body and repellent on the hands, of course! Brilliant! Now, I simply have to find a repellent that works for more than 15 minutes and doesn't give me hand cancer... which brings me back to square one.

But then I found this great article on safer bug repellents. Thank you, WebMD and CBS Health, for waiting until mid-July to publish this article. But better late than never, I suppose. So what are the latest safest options? Soy-based repellents, and oil of lemon eucalyptus. Time to go to my local holistic camping store and find these things! The article also offers short summaries of other natural repellent choices and physical measures you can take, and also has a section on the old standby, DEET, which still seems to be the consensus winner for pure repelling ability, but comes with the usual list of cautions, especially for children. It is after all, an insecticide.

Strangely, no mention was made of the bug suit among the options. Apparently, it's just too dorky for mainstream use. Thanks again, WebMD.

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