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Mosquito Madness

It’s summer. The sky is blue, the camper is packed, and the mosquitos are preparing to wage war. So, how can we best protect ourselves from blood-sucking pests when camping?

Mozzies are fascinating creatures. Widely known for their irritating bites and disease-carrying qualities, they are sometimes referred to as the most dangerous creatures on Earth. With the ability to carry malaria, Ross River fever, Dengue fever, the Zika virus and many other diseases, the humble mosquito is capable of wreaking havoc on your health. The lifespan of the mosquito is not long. It can be mere days for male mosquitos and a maximum of several months for female mosquitoes. But given females can lay up to 200 eggs each time they breed, there is never a shortage of the pests!

When camping, particularly in the warmer weather, mosquitos can be a real pest that can stop you from truly enjoying the outdoors. With the ability to sense carbon dioxide from 75 feet away, mosquitos can easily detect a group of humans, especially at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active. While only the female mosquito bites, to aid with reproduction, sometimes it can feel like there are hundreds of mozzies around ready to sink their anti-coagulant-soaked teeth into you.

When setting up camp, avoid areas that have standing water. Mosquitos breed in such conditions, so you’re likely to be surrounded come nightfall. Sleeping areas can be protected with mosquito netting, but make sure the edges are overlapped and drape on the ground to avoid leaving gaps where pesky mozzies can break in. Clothing can protect against mosquito bites, but this isn’t always practical, especially in summer when short sleeves and shorts are the go-to outfits. 

Citronella candles and burners are popular products in the summer, although their effectiveness of these is greatly debated. Citronella is said to be a successful deterrent in an enclosed space, but if sitting in the great outdoors, the slightest breeze can render these products ineffective.

Commercial repellents usually contain DEET (diethyltoluamide) as the active ingredient. Due to recent research, some consumers are now reluctant to use DEET products and have instead opted for repellents made with picaridin. One of the well-known picaridin brands is OFF!, while the traditional favourite Aeroguard is powered by DEET. Tropical Strength Aeroguard is composed of 40% DEET, so it protects for up to six hours.

Another ingredient on the market is IR3535, which is marketed by pharmaceutical giant Merck. All types of products are available in Australia. Research on picaridin-based repellents is still in its infancy, so it is up to the consumer to choose the product that is right for them. Always follow the directions on the product and keep away from your eyes and open cuts.

It’s the mosquito saliva that causes the immune response to bites. Some people seem to tolerate bites better than others, who can develop large welt-like marks. It’s important not to scratch a mosquito bite, but this can be difficult to resist. There are many different theories on what can help soothe a bite and several commercial products that promise to stop the itch. Natural remedies include a cold compress, aloe vera directly on the bite, and a wet tea bag to reduce the immune response.

Products that promise to stop the itch include Stop Itch Plus, calamine lotion and antihistamines, though the latter is more suited to serious bite reactions. 

While the following facts can’t help protect against mosquitos (not possible to change your blood type!), they can help answer the question of why some people seem to be more susceptible to bites than others:

  • Research from 2004 indicates that mosquitos are drawn to people with type O blood, more than they were attracted to those with types A or B blood. 
  • The warmer the human, the more attractive they are to mosquitos. The pests are naturally more interested in people with greater body heat.
  • Carbon dioxide is very attractive to mosquitos. The more carbon dioxide exerted, the greater the attraction for mozzies.
  • In a small study on alcohol consumption and mosquito activity, the insects were found to be more attracted to people with alcohol in their blood. This is an ongoing research area, and the results are a topic of continuous debate.
  • Pregnant women are believed to be more attractive to mosquitos because of their greater carbon dioxide output and higher body temperature. 
  • Dark clothing is said to be more appealing to mosquitos than lighter-coloured outfits.

While it is impossible to eradicate mosquitos (and remember, they are an important part of the ecosystem), a good repellent should allow you to sit around the campfire without becoming a mosquito snack. So, slather on the repellent, put on your light-coloured long sleeves and enjoy summer nights.

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