Want to avoid bug bites this year? Get them before they get you.
You're lying in your tent and you hear that high-pitched
drilling noise, tiny at first, then louder, louder. Mosquitoes! Is there
anything more annoying? Well, how about ticks? Or those insane no-see-ums?
Sssh, don't tell, but bugs outnumber humans gazillions to one and are only
letting us live here.
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In recent years, however, these aggravating little monsters
have become downright dangerous, spreading serious diseases in many parts of
the country. According to the CDC, more than 20,000 cases of insect-related
illnesses are confirmed each year.
West Nile virus has slowly been making its way across the
country since its arrival in the U.S. in 1999. Unfortunate campers and
residents in many parts of the Northeast trail IV poles as they undergo
long-term antibiotic treatment for tick-borne Lyme disease. Rocky Mountain
spotted fever, which also is tick-borne, has climbed down from the Rockies.
Keeping insects at bay is a battle fought on several fronts.
First, you can try to get them before they get you. This is the philosophy
behind community spraying efforts, which often end up bathing humans in
insecticide, killing beneficial insects, and leaving many fertile, harmful
insects left to fight again. At very least, though, you could drain standing
water in your yard so mosquitoes won't breed in it.
People also apply insecticides to themselves or their clothing.
One such, permethrin, is sold in a number of products, including Permanone
(check labels). The CDC recommends applying this to clothing, not skin.
Even the most popular "skin" insecticide, DEET -- used
as a repellent by one-third of the population in the United States -- must be
used with extreme caution. A study done at Duke University and published in the
November 2001 Journal of Experimental Neurology showed that frequent and
prolonged applications of DEET (in an average human dose adjusted to rat size)
caused neurons to die in regions of rat brains that control muscle movement,
learning, memory, and concentration.
"The rats didn't look any different," says lead
researcher Mohamed Abou-Donia, PhD, professor of pharmacology and cancer
biology at Duke, "but when we challenged them with a task, they
Abou-Donia became interested in this subject while studying
veterans who used DEET in concentrations of 70% and in concert with permethrin
(not recommended, by the way). "We think part of the problem experienced by
some vets may be due to DEET," says Abou-Donia, referring to Gulf War
If You Must Use DEET
In Canada, DEET concentrations cannot exceed 30%. Here,
hundreds of products, some containing 100% DEET, are on the shelves. Abou-Donia
and Ken Holscher, PhD, an associate professor of entomology at Iowa State
University, urge extreme caution in using DEET.
Use products containing DEET in low concentrations only (30% or less for
adults, 10% or less for children)
Never apply DEET products to infants under 2 years old
Even for older children, be very careful and apply sparingly, if at all.
("I shudder when I see people having their kid stand there with his arms
out while they spray and spray him," Holscher says. "You don't want to
breathe this stuff, either.")
Apply it by hand, not spray. Put on your own hands, not the child's, and
Don't apply to eyes or lips
Never apply to wounds
Don't use DEET or even spray your yard if you are taking medications.
(There are few studies on interactions, Abou-Donia says, and those interactions
can be serious).