How to Beat Mosquitoes, Ticks and Chiggers
Learning to prevent bug bites from mosquitoes, ticks and chiggers will reduce the likelihood of contracting a serious illness
A friend and I fished a backcountry lake last summer. To reach it we had to hike a quarter mile or so through a grassy field.
Unfortunately, the fish didn’t cooperate. But when we arrived back at the truck, I did notice another creature. A tick was crawling up my fishing buddy’s neck.
“There’s nothing good about ticks,” I said as I showed him the little blood-sucking parasite.
“You’re wrong,” he said. “There is one good thing.”
“And what would that be?” I asked.
“They don’t get as big as grizzly bears,” he replied.
We are indeed fortunate that ticks are small because these arachnids are like little vampires. They bite unlucky humans who cross paths with them and then make a meal of their blood. A tick the size of Gentle Ben would certainly be frightening to encounter.
The same holds true for mosquitoes and chiggers. We can be thankful they don’t get very big and their bites are usually just an itchy inconvenience.
This is not always the case, however. A number of infectious diseases are transmitted by these biting bugs. And left untreated, some illnesses such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia and Lyme disease can be dangerous or even deadly. It is important, therefore, that we learn proper methods for avoiding bites whenever we’re outdoors.
These nasty little critters think of humans as enormous strawberry sodas. If they keep their straws in you long enough, you could contract Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia or other dangerous illnesses such as alpha gal, a disorder that renders victims allergic to certain meats like beef, pork and venison.
The most effective means to keep ticks from drilling into your hide is to use a permethrin-based repellent. Unlike DEET-based products (which also show effectiveness against ticks), these are sprayed on fabric, not skin, and will kill ticks that touch treated clothing or bedding. Permethrin products include Sawyer Products’ Premium Insect Repellent and Repel Permanone.
You also can purchase permethrin-treated clothing from companies like L.L.Bean and Insect Shield. Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted a recent study that found just a minute or two of contact with permethrin-treated clothing caused ticks to become incapacitated or fall off fabric. The clothing could potentially keep ticks from getting beneath clothing and staying next to skin long enough to bite.
Other tick-bite prevention measures include wearing long pants with the cuffs tucked in your socks, and inspecting oneself for ticks after trips afield. The risk of disease transmission decreases significantly if ticks are removed promptly.
Attached ticks should be removed properly to avoid infection. Refer to the CDC guide for doing this correctly.
Around 200 species of mosquitoes occur in the United States. Female mosquitoes, the kind that bite, need a blood meal before laying eggs. To find you, they follow your body’s chemical trails. The carbon dioxide you exhale is like the aroma of frying bacon to hungry mosquitoes. Their bites spoil hours of leisure time, and some mosquitoes transmit diseases such as malaria, encephalitis, Zika virus and West Nile virus to humans.
To avoid mosquito bites, wear protective clothing outdoors and use insect repellents containing 15 to 30 percent DEET. These include Tender Corporation’s Ben’s 30, S.C. Johnson’s Off! and Spectrum Brands’ Cutter. DEET (a.k.a. N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide) has been the world’s most widely used insect repellent for more than 60 years and remains the most effective repellent available.
DEET disrupts biting insects’ ability to detect the carbon dioxide. Insects aren’t killed; they just can’t locate their prey. DEET products are safe if used according to label instructions, but be aware they can dissolve rayon, fishing line and the finish on rods and guns.
According to Consumer Reports, products containing 20 percent picaridin, a synthetic repellent modeled after a compound that occurs naturally in the black pepper plant, also show effectiveness against mosquitoes. Repel’s Plant-Based Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent also did well in their tests, warding off mosquitoes and ticks for at least seven hours.
Another great tool for combating mosquitoes is the ThermoCELL from Schawbel Corporation. Each ThermaCELL unit operates on a butane cartridge that heats a mat and releases insect repellent into the air, creating a 15-by-15-foot, bug-free area. These small units are portable and odor-free, ideal for use when fishing and camping.
Chiggers prove largeness isn’t always important when gauging significance. At 1/150th of an inch in diameter, these mites are virtually invisible. But if they tap into your hide (they love skin under elastic), the itchy welts thus raised will remind you for days the grass is not always greener on the other side.
The chigger larvae, not the adults, are the biters. They are not known to transmit disease in the U.S. and do not burrow into skin or feed on blood as many people think. Chiggers insert their mouthparts in a skin pore or hair follicle to eat broken-down skin cells. A digestive enzyme they secrete causes intense itching that can last weeks.
Insect repellents containing DEET effectively repel chiggers, and a hot, soapy shower after being outdoors may wash them off before they bite.
Hunters also keep chiggers off with BuckWing Products’ Saveyur Tick, Chigger and Fire Ant Gators. Made with heavy-duty stretch material, these leggings fit tightly over pants-leg openings and boot tops to keep out biting bugs.
Apply ice, calamine lotion or doctor-recommended medications on itchy chigger bites. Bite-relief products such as Tender Corporation’s After Bite also work if used promptly. Alcohol may help, too – the rubbing kind, of course.
No matter how much you try to steer clear of them, outdoor pests are here to stay. Because of them, infants will wail, women will weep and strong men will teeter on the brink of madness.
Fortunately for you, my body parts are preferred by nine out of 10 biting bugs in North America.
Could you scratch my back, please? A little lower. Yeah, right there.
The American Mosquito Control Association offers these suggestions to follow when using insect repellents:
- Apply repellent sparingly only to exposed skin or clothing.
- Keep repellents away from eyes, nostrils and lips; do not inhale or ingest repellents or get them into the eyes.
- Avoid applying high-concentration (>30% DEET) products to the skin, particularly of children.
- Avoid applying repellents to portions of children’s hands that are likely to have contact with eyes or mouth.
- Pregnant and nursing women should minimize use of repellents.
- Never use repellents on wounds or irritated skin.
- Use repellent sparingly; one application will last approximately 4-6 hours. Saturation does not increase efficacy.
- Wash repellent-treated skin after coming indoors.
- If a suspected reaction to insect repellents occurs, wash treated skin, and call a physician. Take the repellent container to the physician.