The Anti-Mosquito Squad

Mosquitoes are the bane of my existence. All my life, no matter what time of year, time of day, or where I am, I am always one of the main targets for mosquitoes. While I might sympathize with those mosquito mamas (only females suck blood), I’m also highly allergic so my bites tend to swell up (see awkward gallery below!); burning and itching bad enough that sometimes I can’t sleep, which makes me less understanding. I often contemplate why those of us that are most allergic seem to be the most attractive to mosquitoes.

In kindergarten, I was bitten on the top of my right foot and it swelled so big that I couldn’t wear a shoe. I remember going to school, shuffling and half wearing my ballet flat like a slipper. Because of this, my parents worried and warned me against bugs, telling me things like, “be careful not to be stung by a bee, you might die.”

Luckily that’s never happened and I no longer see bees as buzzers of death, but I still have pretty bad reactions to mosquitoes and they still always tend to only bite me. I can be fully clothed next to a group of half naked people and I’d be the only one bitten. I’m currently traveling the world with my fiancé, Carl, and dealing with this whole other variable in traveling while he travels in bliss.

You may wonder, why bother cataloguing mosquito woes while traveling, well let it be known (sometimes this surprises people) that mosquitoes are the deadliest animals in the world. They are the real harbingers of death and disease: ever heard of malaria, West Nile, encephalitis, yellow fever or dengue?

While those in more developed countries don’t have to worry as much about these viruses at home, we as travelers should be very wary of what we might be bringing along with us while we trot the globe. I feel especially vulnerable and responsible as one that’s so attractive to mosquitoes. So here I’m going to begin documenting my experiences in hopes that it will help fellow mosquito victims and travelers, or perhaps even provide some data for those doing research in the battle against mosquitoes.

Let’s do our part in fighting mosquitoes!

The indoors are not necessarily safe. Prevent house mosquitoes from getting in by maintaining your screens and checking for cracks in the windows and doors. Using air-conditioning or a fan can help. Sleep under mosquito nets when necessary.

Prevent mosquito breeding by removing any standing water around the house, in the garden or gutters. Change the water in fountains or bird baths weekly.

Ready your armor! Wear loose fitting long clothes to cover skin and use mosquito repellent on any exposed skin. Avoid spraying directly on the face. If using in combination with sunscreen, always apply sunscreen first. Make sure to reapply both as necessary. Wash them off as soon as it’s safe to do so.

If you’re traveling get your vaccinations and have the proper medication with you. CDC warns travelers that if you “have symptoms including fever, headache, muscle and joint pain, and rash, see your healthcare provider immediately and be sure to share your travel history.” And “even if they do not feel sick, travelers should prevent mosquito bites for 3 weeks after their trip so they do not spread viruses […] to uninfected mosquitoes.(5)

My favorite mosquito repellent

In the past couple of years I’ve been using Sawyer Products Premium Insect Repellent with 20% Picaridin with regularity and found it effective. I’ve even used it to spray on my clothes with no damage to them. The smell is much more pleasant than most the DEET products I’ve used, though at the bottom of the bottle the chemical smell got stronger, so perhaps remember to shake well before each use. No matter which repellent you use, make sure to follow application directions carefully! Unfortunately, as I’m traveling I’ve only found DEET and “all natural” products in the stores throughout South East Asia.

One of these days, I’m really hoping that we can get away from spray-on repellents altogether, as plenty of factors (i.e. sweating or water activities) negate their effectiveness. My dreams will come true when something wearable that’s actually effective gets developed and is produced in an affordable and sustainable manner. In the meantime…

My favorite anti-itch cream

Ivarest Anti-Itch Cream, Maximum Strength, Medicated

So far it’s the only cream that’s actually provided any substantial relief (even 2% Hydrocortisone has never given more than momentary relief). Ivarest contains antihistamine to help stop the reaction and analgesic to sooth the itch and it also helps to dry any oozing. Note that you should not use any other antihistamines with it, so you have to choose between this and Benadryl.

Mosquito Repellent Product Reviews

Though DEET has been the long standing effective repellent for mozzies, a newer chemical Picaridin has been my preference mainly as it is odorless, absorbs less readily into the skin and does not plasticize the way DEET does.(1) Contrary to popular belief, 100% DEET is not necessarily better. Studies have shown that 30% DEET is just as effective as higher percentages(2) – even if the higher percentages might offer longer coverage, I believe it’s better to simply reapply as needed rather than risk a stronger chemical absorption into your body.

Though I’m keen on using an all natural repellent, I just haven’t found one that’s been particularly effective. Research on the effectiveness of citronella as a mosquito repellent is inconclusive, though it seems effective as a natural pesticide, and the EU has not approved of it as an effective ingredient against mosquitoes.(3) If using the other approved natural ingredient, oil of lemon eucalyptus, know that it should not be used on children under the age of three.(4)

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Be warned the images may disgust, but I’m going to start keeping this photo diary of my bites throughout my travels, many more that were also not photographed, as it isn’t my initial reaction to want to document them and one does not feel particularly photogenic when one is bitten up.

Sources

(1)(4)mosquito.org/page/FAQ#Which%20repellent%20works%20best? & rei.com/learn/expert-advice/insect-repellents.html & territorysupply.com/picaridin-vs-deet
(2)thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/citronella-insect-repellent/ & consumerreports.org/insect-repellents/mosquito-repellents-that-best-protect-against-zika/ & consumerreports.org/cro/insect-repellent/buying-guide/index.htm
(3)epa.gov/insect-repellents/using-insect-repellents-safely-and-effectively
(5)cdc.gov/travel/page/avoid-bug-bites

EPA approved insect repellents
American Mosquito Control Association
Washington State Department of Health on mosquitoes
National Geographic on mosquitoes