Beating the Bugs

by Brett Brown

Each year 100 or so Americans die from insect stings and about 50 from snake bites. Still, we kill snakes and suffer bugs. We need not.

Tent and RV nets and screens protect your meals and sleep. Headnets and proper clothing keep insects off your skin so they can't bite. Repellent lotion, spray, sticks and smudges confuse insects so they don't zero in on tender skin. Zappers and traps kill insects before they bite. If you still get bit, Afterbite(tm) sticks can ease itch and stings. Understand insect behavior and avoid insect hangouts and you just about eliminate the problem.

Mosquitoes puncture your skin and blackflies chew their way in. Both spread malaria and a host of other diseases. They spend part of their life just offshore from that lovely lake or stream-side camp. Camp at least 50 yards from water with some wind and you reduce the problem. If it's colder than 50 degrees F you shouldn't be bothered with bugs, so try spring or fall visits to stream or lakeside campgrounds.

Put net in tents and screen RV windows tight enough to keep tiny "no-see-ums" out for restful nights. Smudge-type repellents and, in sites with power, electric bug "zappers" work. In extreme cases such as swampy country in the Northeast, Southeast, Canada or Alaska you might need a headnet -- L.L. Bean's folds up into a hat. Also wear tightly woven long-sleeve dull brown or tan clothing which is least attractive to biting insects. A loose fit and mesh underwear underneath keep bugs from biting through.

Repellents handle most other bug problems. DEET, the active ingredient, apparently jams insects' chemical receptors so they can't find tender skin. Repellents with 95 or 100 percent DEET work in smaller quantities and last longer than the typical 19 to 39 percent spray which does work well on clothing or in vehicles. According to Dr. Thomas C. Jones, an expert on international medicine, "repellents should contain a minimum DEET concentration of 27 to 28 percent to be effective." Expect three to ten hours per application and reapply when bugs start to land on your skin or clothing.

DEET does have disadvantages. It burns if it gets into eyes or onto lips. It breaks down plastics and most synthetic fabrics so clothing made from cotton, wool or even nylon is best. Don't get DEET on tent netting which can dissolve.

Bugs bother some more than others due to hormonal and genetic differences. Blonds and redheads seem to suffer bug attacks more than the dark complected. Diet influences bug bites too. Vegetarians claim they are less bothered by biting bugs than carnivorous folks. Folk remedies such as Vitamin B-1, mineral oil and brewers yeast (Italians say garlic works) are seemingly unsupported by research.

Chiggers, ticks and itch mites wait in ambush on brush or ground, then climb to bare skin. Long pants and shirts, thick socks, pants tucked into boots, hats pulled down over ears, etc. all well-sprayed with repellent help you avoid Rocky Mountain Fever and a couple of nifty other diseases. Don't forget Fido; dogs get sick from ticks too. Remove ticks at once with a slow, steady pull. Twisting, heat, coating with vaseline, etc. don't seem to work as well.

Avoidance is the key to good relations with bees, wasps and ants which thrive where campers leave food scraps or sweet drinks. You can trap yellow jackets -- meat eating wasps -- with a small piece of bacon hung one-half inch over a pan of water with detergent added. Wasps buzz in, dine and drown. The detergent is necessary to lower the surface tension on the water - otherwise the yellow jackets can just bounce off the water. Avoid sweet aftershaves, soaps or perfumes, and clothing in "flower-colors". Avoid wasp nests, ant hills and bee hives and they will leave you alone too!

WARNING! While it takes 500 or more stings to kill most people, the 8 out of 1,000 allergic individuals can die from one sting of the Hymenoptera family which includes bees, wasps, hornets, yellow jackets, ants, etc. Swelling involving more than one joint, hives, vomiting, nausea and especially any constriction of the mouth or chest require immediate medical attention.

So wear a warning bracelet or tag if you're allergic. (Write Medic Alert Foundation, Box 1009, Turlock, CA 95380 for details.) Ask your doctor about an adrenalin insect sting kit or hyposensitization therapy -- a series of injections. If you have a family history of insect bite allergies, check with your doctor.

Black widow and Brown Recluse spiders hide in old buildings and wood stacks. The scorpions most common in the Southwest and Mexico seem to come in pairs and hide in dark places such as boots or shoes. Shake out footgear or clothing and don't reach anywhere you can't see to avoid these reclusive "bugs." Bites from either require medical attention.

If you do get stung or bitten, wash the area with soap and water as soon as possible to prevent infection. After Bite (TM), ammonium hydroxide or mink oil in a pencil-like applicator or towelette reduce itch and sting as well as scratching.

Of course, we read about "killer" bees and fire ant "invasions," which are popular with low budget movie makers. But there's one real insect menace nobody talks about. That's the single mosquito or no-see-um that buzzes around heads after dark, immediately disappears when we stalk it with bug dope or swatter in hand and only reappears when the lights go back out. One way to avoid this problem in your tent, RV or hotel room is with a DEET Spray before you leave the room for fifteen minutes. If that "buzz, buzz" still wakes you up in the middle of the night, only one remedy remains. Tear off two small pieces of toilet paper, wad them, stick them in your ears, go to sleep and try bug spray after you deal with any welts in the morning!