As long as humans have inhabited the earth, mosquitoes have enjoyed the blood offerings from unsuspecting earthlings in fruitful abundance.
Spanish for “Little Fly”, there are over 3500 species of mosquito covering parts of every continent on earth [except Antarctica].
The bane of locals and travellers alike, these thorny little blood junkies spread many diseases including Malaria, responsible for over 1 million deaths worldwide every year. Dengue fever. Zika virus. Yellow fever, and West Nile virus.
Diseases, if contracted, can take anywhere between two weeks to one year for symptoms to develop, in which, serious illness or death can occur. With such a death toll mosquitoes are deemed the most dangerous animals on the planet.
Though many bites don’t lead to disease, being bitten usually leaves annoying and unsightly itchy red blotches which can last from one to several days.
Feeding mainly off fruit and plant nectar, the female supplements her egg’s development with protein from blood, which she then lays in stagnant water a few days after her vampirous feed.
Mosquitoes don’t live very long, males about ten days, females about two months – in which they can lay three cycles of eggs hatching approximately 300 offspring. With such little time, they set set off on life’s path to seek out the ‘red gold’ from warm blooded mammals like you and I. Rarely biting above the shoulders, with ankles and legs a preference due to their low flying status, the javelin nosed suckers are attracted to heat, light, movement and smells, with perfumed body products and alcohol a particular attraction.
Some animals like dogs, cats and horses can also become infected with disease caused by bites. If visiting countries with such conditions, contact your vet before travelling as quite often preventative medicines can be bought and could save on expensive treatments to cure any illness or kill off parasites after by being bitten. It may also save your pets life.
Since leaving a Mosquito free Scotland to start our journey to North, South and Central America, we’ve been fighting off the frenzied thirst of various members of the Culicidae family in every town, city and country visited. We’ve researched the most effective repellents on the market to the best homemade remedies. Even accidental successes to simply wearing the correct clothing.
We’ve tried several. Most worked, some not as well as others.
Lotions and Potions
The chemical DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) is the main ingredient in most repellents and is arguably the most effective on the market. Developed by the US Army in the 1940’s, DEET is now said to be used by one third of the US population to repel mosquitoes and ticks.
The downside to DEET are claims it may lead to developing a host of health problems including, cancer, brain damage and behavioural changes. These claims are disputed by manufacturers and scientific studies have found no concrete evidence that prolonged use of DEET is detrimental to your health.
Some Holistic health professionals and those favouring natural repellents point to the Environmental Protection Agency advice stating Deet should be washed off after returning indoors, clothing should be washed, do not apply under clothing and apply only in well ventilated areas.
With a degree of dubiety and erring on the side of caution, we decided to avoid any products with DEET.
The first product we bought in was New York City and wasn’t technically a mosquito repellent.
Avon Skin So Soft does what it says on the tin – It makes your skin soft.
Skin as soft as a pin cushion sounds like an ideal candidate for mosquito bites. The reality is, those beaky little pests hate the smell of this product. The story goes it was British Royal Marines who first discovered Avon’s beauty moisturiser was a good repellent. Defending the United Kingdom’s nuclear arsenal on Scotland’s west coast and undergoing training exercises in the Scottish Highlands, they found Skin So Soft the ideal deterrent for our own ‘little fly’ the dreaded midge which, unlike the mosquito, attack in swarms.
Whatever the ingredient, it works. And I have to say it works a treat. The downside? You smell like your grandmother…
When Avon wasn’t available we purchased natural products from local pharmacies or skin care salons that made their own. Usually in spray bottles they also came in block formation like a roll-on deodorant. We found the best ones contained either lavender, oil of eucalyptus or citronella. The latter being the most common and most effective. They didn’t smell too pungent and worked pretty well.
Other Products And Tips
Wrist bands seemed to work. Once you open the sealed packet, water resistant wrist bands emit a repelling odour for around 48 hours before having to be renewed. Excellent for children and short holidays but travelling long term may not be cost effective.
Incense sticks also worked well. Again citronella and lavender infused were recommended to be the top choice. However, these only work whilst burning and once extinguished mosquitoes return to the hunt pretty quickly.
As with all products on the market you have to keep reapplying throughout the day if you don’t want bitten. Wear appropriate, lightly coloured clothing. Trousers and socks, shirts with sleeves, or sit with a blanket or towel over your legs. At night sleep under a net.
One of the best deterrents is air conditioning or a fan. Our intravenous, blood vacuuming arch enemy dislike cooler air or a sudden change in temperature and find it difficult to fly through ‘windy’ conditions. So if you like it slightly chillier, this is for you.
Eating foods such as garlic, chillies, herbs, spices and citrus fruits are said to help deter bites, whilst keeping a healthy and strong immune system are claimed to help, prevent or aliveate symptoms caused by diseases mentioned above. Papayas especially are said to be highly effective.
The fact of the matter is, you will get bitten at some point. Taking precautions will greatly reduce that risk but won’t eliminate it 100%. Don’t let the fear of being bitten scare you from travelling to high risk areas. Enjoy your travels and the beauty the world has to offer.