Mosquito Bites

Mosquito Bites

Out in the woods with this week I suffered a merciless attack from the Mosquitos. It may be that as well as the usual reactions I also suffer from an allergy to the mosquito bite as well (Skeeter syndrome). So in the interests of fellow sufferers, Farafoot thought it would be useful to communicate some information about insect attacks that might help mitigate the impact for us during this hot spell.

The first thing you want to do of course is prevent the attack. This is only really effective through barriers. Loose white clothing, tied off at entry points, is the best solution.

Camping close to standing water is a risk, since this is the breeding ground for the mosquito. It is attracted to black, using its vision to locate dark 'targets' initially, so avoid wearing black. Floral or fruity scents are also attractive, right down to clothing softeners, so it is best to try and eradicate scents from your body and clothes. Certain essential oils, on the other hand, are often used as botanical repellents. The one with most evidence to support its efficacy is Lemon Eucalyptus oil (which, incidentally, will also probably repel human interest in you as well!). The important thing to note about oils is that they are highly volatile, so will quickly evaporate, meaning that frequent reapplication is essential. Also, botanicals can also be quite toxic and generate allergic reactions themselves, so should be handled with care. Traditionally, birch bark tar mixed with oil was used as a topical repellant. As with synthetic repellents, over a certain level increased strength of the preparation will make no difference to its effectiveness, but may extend the duration of effectiveness. Because topical preps can easily be degraded or diluted it is frequency of application that is important. Perspiration, sunscreens and breezes will also increase the extent to which the repellant is rendered ineffective. The use of electronic devices to deter the mosquito and other biting insects hasn't had any support in the scientific literature, and neither have air sprays nor incense.

The most effective synthetic repellant is DEET, though it can have neurological side effects. Any dosage over 30% is too strong and beyond the optimum concentration anyhow. If you are travelling to parts if the world with particularly nasty insect borne diseases then it is probably sensible to risk these effects and use the DEET. Its probably fair to say, though, that in the UK lymes disease (transmitted through Tick bites) is the most serious disease that you might encounter, and this can be controlled through treatment of tick bites. Educating yourself about the risks of Lymes disease and examining yourself for ticks is probably the best preventative measure. There are also some rarer diseases such as African horse sickness and blue tongue disease (carried by midges), tick borne encephalitis,  and Rickettsial diseases (poxes and fevers carries by ticks and lice) that are present in Europe, and would be detected primarily through fever and treated with antibiotics.

The are some unfortunates who seem to be particularly attractive to the mosquito. This may be due to body chemistry. Mosquitos are attracted to carbon dioxide and to lactic acid, so strenuous exercise and/or high body temperature (as well as ingesting salty food and food high in potassium) is likely to make you more of a target, as is the increased sweat, since they also go for humidity. Probably best for these people to use body cover rather than topical preparations. People are sometimes advised that taking vitamin B supplements can act as a deterrent, but the jury is out on this.

There is huge variation in the behaviour of this pesky insect and in the relative susceptibility of its host, us victims, so if something that is safe works for you, best to thank your lucky stars and keep using it. I've not yet found the magic ingredient, so in future will take my own advice to cover up in loose white clothing when the going gets buzzy.